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One in four adults read no books last year?

Posted by: on Aug 22, 2007 | No Comments

According to the AP:

One in four adults say they read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday. Of those who did read, women and seniors were most avid, and religious works and popular fiction were the top choices.

This is pretty shocking, especially given those interminable lines for the Harry Potter books this summer. But what does it mean? Are these people not reading at all? Are they reading parts of several books? Are they reading a lot of short stories, newspapers, or blogs?

Or to put it another way: Is it reasonable to make the book the most important metric for literacy (as the news article implies but doesn’t state)? Let’s ask one of the people in the survey:

“I just get sleepy when I read,” said Richard Bustos of Dallas, a habit with which millions of Americans can doubtless identify. Bustos, a 34-year-old project manager for a telecommunications company, said he had not read any books in the last year and would rather spend time in his backyard pool.

So a highly literate professional who reads and writes texts constantly doesn’t want to do any more reading on his off hours. That seems reasonable. That’s part of the reason I no longer read fiction. But how typical is Bustos?

People from the South read a bit more than those from other regions, mostly religious books and romance novels. Whites read more than blacks and Hispanics, and those who said they never attend religious services read nearly twice as many as those who attend frequently.

Southerners represent! But notice that the author hastens to point out the specific genres favored by this group, genres that are typically not considered great literature.

There was even some political variety evident, with Democrats and liberals typically reading slightly more books than Republicans and conservatives.

In this case, it doesn’t say what sorts of genres are preferred by each group. Oh wait, yes it does, later in the article:

Those likeliest to read religious books included older and married women, lower earners, minorities, lesser educated people, Southerners, rural residents, Republicans and conservatives.

Presumably wealthy people, liberals, Democrats, and more educated people are reading celebrity biographies and those Harry Potter books instead.

So what do you think? Is a book a meaningful metric of literacy? Can we regard Who Moved My Cheese, The Bible, a romance novel, and Tracing Genres through Organizations as roughly equal, and are they more or less consequential than a week of reading your favorite political blog, or a year’s worth of text messages?

One in four read no books last year – Yahoo! News

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