Saturday, January 17, 2009

Reading up!

For the first time since 1982, adults are reading more. In 1982, about 67% of adults indulged in "literary reading" and a slow slide in that rate has had academics and critics moaning for ... um ... 26 years (reading's up, math still sucks).

Literary reading, btw, means novels, short stories, plays and poems, according to the National Eendowment for the Arts, who produced the survey. The millions of people who read non-fiction are left out, which makes absolutely no sense to me. Aren't those non-fiction books usually thicker and don't they often require far more concentration than, say, Twilight? But I quibble. Back to the survey.

The rate bottomed out at 47% in 2002, but came back up to 50% in 2008. The biggest jump was among 18-to-24-year-olds. Next highest increase: those over 75. But the survey found reading up across ethnic and gender lines. Yippee!

The whole report is here in pdf format. The press release from the NEA, here.

The Los Angeles Times book editor, David Ulin, suggests that celebrating a rise in literacy when no one could really prove there had been a drop (remember all those nonfiction bestsellers) was a bit unrealistic, and that the study seemed "more self-congratulatory than persuasive." He also points out that reading rates, although up over all, still vary greatly by ethnicity and educational level. I'd like to read more about some of his suggestions and recommend this column to anyone who's thought about what reading means.

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