Drop Everything and Read More

The National Endowment for the Arts released their report “Reading on the Rise” on 12 January documenting that for the first time in 25 years, more Americans are reading.

An increase in readers? Excellent!

According to the demographic breakdown, young adults show the biggest increase (yay!) and fiction is the largest growing market in adult readers (also yay!).

Here’s my favorite statistic from the report: “Online readers also report reading books. 84% of adults who read literature (fiction, poetry, or drama) on or downloaded from the Internet also read books, whether print or online – and nearly 15 percent of all U.S. adults read literature online in 2008.”

While the article describes some of the items they surveyed as reading material, notably fiction, poems, and drama, I still find myself questioning what it is that the NEA considers reading?

Me, I read all the damn time. Whenever I’m around words, I’m compelled to read them. Subway ads, the backs of other people’s newspapers (obnoxious, I know), words on the tv screen – I can ignore people talking but words on screen attract my eyeballs like nothing else. And once I start reading, it’s a wonderful tunnel vision I have: everything else is gone. One measure of whether I’m really enjoying my book, aside from whether I take it out of my bag when I get home, is whether I miss my stop on the subway. Thanks to Gayle Wilson, I once ended up in WTF Station in Queens, loooong past my normal stop. Words are engrossing for me in a way that little else is, and since they’re visually irresistible for my very curious, nosy eyes (odd mental image, huh?) I am drawn to reading constantly, even things that are absolutely none of my business.

So yay, more reading. Since I’m the arbirter of, well, me, what I consider reading, I wonder how much more may count as reading that isn’t included in this survey. Is a teenager reading books and short stories or even text messages “reading?” Is following visual and written commands in a video game in part “reading?” So much of what is distributed is done digitally or in fluid text on screens, and I wonder, if I measured how many words I look at all day, how much of my time is really examining words in one form or another, aka reading. I’d have to say it’s probably an enormous percentage, from my morning commute to reading “I Stink!” at bedtime, I’m reading all the time.

What about you? Do you read more? Do you read more digitally or not? How much of your day is spent taking in and comprehending words?

[Thanks to Diane for the link.]

Also: for Garrison Keilor’s take on the study, check out his rumination on what people really want to read in Salon. Thank you to Marta Acosta for the link.]

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Reality Helix says:

    I’m reading all the damn time. I’ve always been like that. Teachers had to take textbooks away from me, because would read them in class.

    I can’t say that I exactly read more now. More like less, I’m afraid, considering that my job mostly consists of me stuffing things in boxes to be sent away to other people. But every chance I get, I’ve got my face stuffed in some book or another.

  2. 2
    KCfla says:

    I read ALOT! I have books everywhere ( or my IPhone ;-) ) with me no matter where I am. And like you- if the read is a good one, I’m so not hearing/seeing anything else around me.

    Which is really helpful at work. While on breaks ( so short, but so needed!) I can tune out the customers, co-workers, intercom, etc.
    And let’s not get into at home, when the teenagers start their shouting, yelling, blasting of stereos. They often say they have to tap my shoulder, or put their hands over the page to get my attention.

    And if for some reason ( rare!) I don’t have something to read?
    CAN. NOT. RELAX! Just can’t. Don’t know why, but that’s the way I am.As for what constitutes “reading”? My son’s English teacher told us parents that she didn’t care what it was- If there were *printed words* involved, that it was reading. Internet, books, comics, instructions, whatevah! ( bless her- because now he’s finally figured out that reading isn’t necessarily a *chore* to be suffered!!!!!!)

  3. 3
    JoanneL says:

    Years ago the fear that my teenager wasn’t reading enough led me to watch (spy) on him and what I discovered was that he read. A lot. The sports page, first word to last. The car ads, books on poker, playboy magazine (I hear the articles are great) and other things that aren’t mentioned by the Foundation. It’s all reading.

    And somewhere along the path of my wayward youth I learned to love Homer and Shakespeare Jane Austen. For that I thank a teacher.

  4. 4
  5. 5
    Chani says:

    Count me as another person always reading. I am a ‘total black out’ reader, meaning that when I am reading something (book, newspaper, whatever) the whole world disappears. I neither hear nor see anything else, much to my husband’s amusement and other people’s exasperation on occasions.

    I always thought this was a failing of my supposed female ability to ‘multi-task’ but clearly I am not alone!

  6. 6
    Jessica G. says:

    I’ve always loved to read, but now that I’ve got my Sony Reader I just can’t stop. It just makes it so much easier to read. Waiting for someone at the bar? Got a book! Smoke break? Got a book! Sitting at an auction? Got a book!

  7. 7
    Vicki says:

    LOL and coffee on the keyboard again, thanks to the Keilor link. I have to say that I have always loved to read and had finished the children’s section in the nearby branch of the Vancouver public library by the time I was eight and had to move on to the adult section, much of which (throbbing manhoods) I did not understand. Almost got thrown out of World History in high school for sitting in the back of the class and reading Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. However, despite being an incessant reader (I have been known to read at stop lights), I do find that I prefer some action, some manly men (of any persuasion) and some saucy wenches (of all persuasions, though I seem to be having trouble with the dead ones). I can handle a pale reflection in a snowy window but am happier if a ghost, monster, wild animal, or manly man appears in the window, as well.

    ooh, army 49!  Good call.

  8. 8
    Suze says:

    I’m also compulsive, and sometimes have to get bumped by the shopping cart behind me to pull my eyes from magazine covers and cereal boxes when I’m buying groceries.

    I’m finding as I get older, though, that I’m reading less, and it’s TOTALLY because of hormones.  There are some days when books just don’t interest me.  I pick them up, fail to get engaged, put them down, try another, and finally end up cleaning the toilet or something.  A few days later I rip through all the books I tried before, sucked in and enthralled, and OMG EVERYBODY should read this AWESOME book.

    Hormones.  They mess you up.

  9. 9
    Tina C. says:

    I’m also an incessant reader who is distracted (OH, SHINY) by any words I see.  This is sometimes a little irritating when I’m trying to see the rest of the bumper sticker and the car in front of me insists on driving away and/or turning the corner.

    I also have superior powers of concentration when I’m really engaged in a book and can block out any sound or distraction.  Do the rest of you that do this also see the book almost like a movie in your head while you’re reading something you’re really into?

  10. 10
    Liz says:

    I love to read, and I have since I was in high school when I finally found books that interested me (aka books that have lots of sex in them).  Now (almost 9 years later), I can’t seem to stop reading.  I ave however trained myself to know where I am on the bus, so I don’t miss my stop.  (oh, and my stop on the train is WTF have they done to this station in Queens…such a tourist nightmare…thank you JFK).

    i think that reading can be done in many different ways that reading instructions and on video games does not count.  you can read a blog, a magazine (yes even Playboy), a newspaper, a book, and a crawl at the bottom of the television screen.  while you are physically reading, it isn’t the same thing as reading those other things.

    took58—took me 58 minutes to actually get this done while waiting for Roto Router.

  11. 11
    Mary Beth says:

    Same here. Read all the time. I have books stashed in various rooms so I am never without something to read. I even have an “emergency” book in the car just in case I am stuck at a train crossing or waiting in a school parking lot to pick up my kid. I read cereal boxes, maps, TV guides (I know tons about movies I have never seen), magazines galore, books books books, and it’s gotten to the point where I can’t watch TV if I am not also reading a book or reading something online.

  12. 12
    Marianne McA says:

    I’ve always read too. I’ve probably lost the ability to be completely lost in a book – I think I’d chalk that up to motherhood – but I could probably still manage 90% immersion. 10% of my brain will be keeping track of time, and suspicious silences.

    Be interesting to know what the increase in reading stems from – is it the Harry Potter/Twilight effect feeding through, or is it technology – that so much of that generation’s communication is through the written word that they are just comfortable with reading? 

    And word wise, I’ve a particular hatred of clothes with logos on.  Don’t want to have to read people, but can’t help myself trying.

    I read a lovely poem once, that I wish I’d cut out from the paper and kept, that was called something like ‘Christmas in a house with no books.’ Was more or less just a collection of the words that the author had seen written on things through the day.

  13. 13
    JewelTones says:

    Sigh.  I’m reading less.  I’m having a harder and harder time finding stories I can just lose myself in, though I have recently discovered some new authors (well, new to me at any rate) that I find I can settle back and enjoy.  I like a good sense of humor in what I read and really good relationship, especially when it comes to romance, and too often what I find are sexual relationships with nothing to them beyond the sex.  I don’t like closing a book and thinking once the sex cools down in a couple of months they’re so ending up in divorce court.  There’s no “why” to why the couple is in love, why they’re the perfect ones for each other and nobody else.  After a while I got tired of it and my reading trailed off.  I’m trying to get back into it but now that one of my favorite authors (non-romance) is dead (poor Donald Westlake) it certainly narrows the field.  Even Carl Hiaasen’s last book didn’t grab me.  It’s to the point I’m eyeing his new one on golf just for something to read.

    I have, however, started digging through my bookshelves and boxes for my old favorites to read them again.

  14. 14
    Alex says:

    I’ve been on a reading binge lately—David Eddings, mostly. But I’ve also been playing some video games which have some reading going for them (Legend of Zelda right now). I’ve also been reading my geology textbook, which is sort’ve necessary right now.

  15. 15
    Bev Stephans says:

    Reading defines me. It’s who I am. I don’t ever remember not reading. Mysteries, romances, sci-fi, American history, English history, etc. I am never without a book.

    When I first had access to the internet, what did I do?  Why open an account with an on-line bookstore.  I’ve never looked back.  The mailman and the UPS driver are my best friends.

  16. 16

    I read constantly, usually 5-6 novels a week. But I can’t read tickers at the bottom of the screen, like on CNN. It moves too slowly for me to have the patience to wait. And I’m not big into eBooks either. I’ve bought a couple of Spice Shorts, but I like to move around and curl up and I just can’t do it with the laptop as well as a book in my hands. And given the size of an iPod’s screen, I don’t see myself doing that once I buy one (in the very near future.)

    I’m a book-book junkie.

  17. 17
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    I can’t help wondering if this has something to do with the lousy economy.  Not everyone can afford to got out to dinner or the movies several times a week or take expensive vacations, but library books are still free, and used paperbacks are a quarter or less in many places.

  18. 18
    Lovecow2000 says:

    I am an addict.  My story is much as described by others on this post: Whenever I can I read. 

    I have so many books in my TBR that I think I’d be able to read 2 books a day for about 2 months before they would run out.

    Question: How often do folks re-read books?

  19. 19
    Suze says:

    Question: How often do folks re-read books?

    Until they’re worn to ribbons, and I have to buy new copies, only to find they’re out of print, and I have to search used book stores, and have trouble finding copies anyway, and end up buying them on-line for prices that are an order of magnitude larger than their original sticker.

    Some comfort-read books I’ve read literally hundreds of times.

  20. 20
    Alex says:

    Do the rest of you that do this also see the book almost like a movie in your head while you’re reading something you’re really into?

    Oh, God yes. Did you know, that’s actually a form of hypnosis? Sometimes people get so wrapped up in words, they enter a hypnotic state. Back in high school, I wrote a newspaper editorial about why I read books—I actually had someone—a girl, no less—come up and demand that I stop reading ‘porn’. I pointed out that R.A. Salvatore is not porn. It took a good three minutes for her to get her head around the idea that I read because I liked the story—and she, for some reason, got snippy and said, “I’ve never seen a guy read anything that wasn’t porn” before she swept off.

    There’s not telling what words can cause that hypnosis.

  21. 21
    Alex says:

    Er. Once more, with Coherence!

    That hypnobookia is, indeed, a hypnotic state. Sometimes, the words just work on you, but some people are more prone to it. I wrote an editorial which mentioned it—I believe I said, ‘A good book claims you.’

    And I wrote the editorial to justify myself to some degree, because I’d caught a lot of flack for being a teenaged guy who liked to read—culminating in that girl who challenged me because I was male, I was reading, therefore I was reading porn.

  22. 22
    Renda says:

    I am a voracious reader.  I am a court reporter so I read all day every day,  but I don’t necessarily enjoy that kind of reading.  But it seems the more I read for work, the more I need to read for relaxation, kind of like I need to read the good stuff to overwrite the work stuff.

    I have found that I don’t remember all my old favorites so I can reread my old favorites every year or so and enjoy them all over again just like they are new to me.

    So for that reason I am no longer getting rid of books and not so worried that I can’t find new stuff that I enjoy because I have the old stuff to keep me comforted.

  23. 23

    Tina C: Do the rest of you that do this also see the book almost like a movie in your head while you’re reading something you’re really into?

    YES. I do that all the time. It’s how I’ve always read and it’s also how I write, which can be incredibly frustrating because the words never seem to come out properly on the page.

    I’m another of those people who can’t look away when there are words. Cereal boxes, other people’s newspaper (I really, really can’t help it!), et al. I have to keep explaining to my fiancé that when I’m accidentally reading whatever he’s looking at on his computer it’s not because I’m nosy, it’s because they are words and I can see them.

  24. 24
    wendy says:

    Thanks to Garrison I now know what was missing when people have tsked my reading choices. Do you think making a finger gun and shouting (big gun) BLAM BLAM BLAM would have the same effect?
    I loathe those news shows that have words scrolling across the screen because I cannot read and listen at the same time.

  25. 25
    rebyj says:

    I was big on cereal boxes back when i wasn’t allowed to read fiction. lol yeah I’m divorced now.
    I don’t read magazines anymore because I get mad at having to hunt thru 1000 ads to get to the one article I MIGHT be interested in.
    I STILL don’t have an e reader so online reading is limited.
    Online: Newspapers, blogs, where ever the blogs send me if I want to learn more about something they’re talking about, classic freebies on gutenbergproject and google books, and I bet I’ve read a million exerpts of books where ever I find them lol.

  26. 26
    Stelly says:

    I read all the time, even things I don’t understand.  I’ve learned what sounds correspond to what combinations of letters in Dutch.  So, I can properly say what I’m reading without understanding what I’m talking about (although I still have a noticeable accent).  It’s helped a lot with my general understanding of the language and I can actually pronounce place and street names and people know what I’m talking about.  Pronouncing things phonetically in English will get you nowhere.

  27. 27
    SusannaG says:

    I’ve been reading more or less continuously since I was 4.

    With a little time out for the stroke, as I had the attention span of my cat (not very much!).

    I read cereal boxes.  I quit watching CNN when they went to the crawl at the bottom of the screen, because I couldn’t make out what it said, and that bugged me (half of it was cut off at the bottom, very annoying).  I always have an emergency read in my purse.

    I blame my mother.  She has also been reading continuously since she was four.

  28. 28
    Lil' Deviant says:

    I found books about fifteen years ago.  I am really dyslexic.  So books were not good.  But my DH convinced me that I would enjoy reading for me.  I don’t have a test.  I don’t have to give a report.  I’m not being timed.  No one will be grading me on this book.  Once I got over the over whelming panic of being in a store of nothing but books I found a great love.  I read voraciously.  I sometimes read a book in a day.  I go no where without a book in my bag or sometimes two.  I now can stand in the isle at the book store and say to my self, I’ve read it, I’ve read it. I’ve read it.

    Read! Does the body good!  *grin*

  29. 29
    Liz says:

    I was big on cereal boxes back when i wasn’t allowed to read fiction. lol yeah I’m divorced now.

    what do you mean when you weren’t allowed to read fiction?  was your husband one of those people?

    Also, I reread books all the time, although they have never gotten to the frayed condition that others have mentioned.

  30. 30
    Tina C. says:

    Alex said:

    That hypnobookia is, indeed, a hypnotic state. Sometimes, the words just work on you, but some people are more prone to it.

    I didn’t know that.  I must be one of the more susceptible ones, because any fiction that I’m engrossed in runs across the cineplex of my mind, in full color, with sound effects.  (And any fiction I’m not engrossed in soon gets left aside for something that does pique my interest.)

    Liz said:

    was your husband one of those people?

    My husband was.  He admitted to actual feelings of jealousy because “when you read, it’s like no one else exists and I feel invisible”.  I was constantly sneaking books like an addict whenever he wasn’t looking and reading catsup bottles and cereal boxes and tv guides when he was.

    Then there are the people who cannot resist the urge to ask total strangers what they’re reading—and then ask for a complete synopsis and/or justification for why anyone would read such a thing.  Hello, if I wanted to chat, I probably wouldn’t be reading here, alone, happily, on this bench/bus/etc.  I wouldn’t be marking my page with my finger while giving the “yeah, that’s nice now please leave me alone thanks” nod-and-smile.  Because, really, I wasn’t just sitting here pretending to be completely engrossed in my book while secretly longing for someone to ask me for an impromptu book report.  And I know for a fact that if I wasn’t reading, said stranger never would have said a word to me.[/rant]

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