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OK, I'm seriously Embarassed America!

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So there’s an article on CNN here I just read that I HAD to write about.  Basically it says that 1 out of 4 adults in this country did not read ONE book last year!  And of the people who DID read books, the average was 7.  For the whole year.

WTF?!

Read the rest of the article and it even gets MORE scary.  Especially the dude who says he didn’t read any books because he’d rather be floating in his backyard pool.  I’m sorry, but the idea of not reading ANY books in a whole year…how is that even possible?  What are those people doing?!  Is THIS why MTV is still making reality shows?!

I would say I read like, 2 books a WEEK.   That doesn’t count all the crap I  read on the internet every day.  The idea that I wouldn’t buy a book for a whole year is as conceivable as not bathing for a month.  No way Jose 🙂

I don’t want to be too self-righteous though.  Some things in this article made me think about my own reading habits.  In the last five years or so I know I’ve read a lot less non-fiction than I used to.  A few times a year, I used to pick an area like art or architecture or code breaking or the Civil War and read a bunch of books about it and really educate myself.  I don’t tend to do that now.  I just target internet surf to the one thing that interests me and then move on to something new.  Because of this I don’t learn about the subject in-depth, and that’s something I’d like to change.  I mean, you want to talk about syphilis and the bubonic plague, I’m all over it, because I went on a middle-ages disease kick at one point.  WHAT HAVE I DONE THAT IS THAT COOL LATELY?!  Nothing, that’s what.

I suppose it can be attributed to age as well.  The older you get the more defined your taste, the less adventurous?   It’s kind of sad that my tastes reflect the idea that my personality is set, I want to be malleable all my life.  Young brain, not smooth brain.

The article also made me want to take a university extension class in some subject that I know I wouldn’t explore normally.  I felt pretty bad when I read this: “politics, poetry and classical literature — were named by fewer than five percent of readers.”   Yes, I’m guilty of having Barak Obama’s book sitting next to my bedside table for like…a year.   Every time I pick it up I look over to the rest of my book pile and see some horrible, yummy fantasy cover art of a Fabio-like man in armor or a impish redhead girl with magic swirling around her head and I “accidentally” read it instead.   I don’t know how to change that other than forcing myself to have a 1 to 1 ratio of “trash” to “substance.”  Not gonna be enforced, but I can put it on my “goals” list. 😉

I think for a class I would most like to take poetry.  It seems like sharing that with other people, hearing it read aloud, interpreting it, that would be pretty fun.  And I can’t resist being in the 5th percentile.

  • Joe

    Two books a week? Wow. The 1:1 ratio is a good goal, I’d say.

    That survey result is a little disheartening. The library is one of the greatest inventions ever. It’s definitely an under utilized resource out there. There has to be something there that appeals to everyone. The quality of the material doesn’t matter so much as JUST READING SOMETHING.

    Although, being a software guy, I can see why he’d rather float in his pool. He probably does a ton of reading for work to keep up w/ technology.

    I can empathize w/ the lady who said she reads 70 books a year and gets the stories mixed up. I hardly remembered any of the specifics of Order of the Phoenix when I saw the movie. And was totally “Oh Shit, they killed Sirius…oh yeah…” (sorry, spoiler warning?)

    Anyhow, 1:1 ratio good. Ideal. Let’s see, I have God’s Politics, a book on software requirements, A Short History of Nearly Everything and Lost in a Good Book on my nightstand right now. Three out of those four are non-fiction. Guess which one I’m dying to finish? (And about to go read right now…)

  • antraxa

    Accidental reading… now that’s an interesting concept 🙂
    I read a book every week too. The side effect is… the piles of books in my room are beginning to look threatening. But then again I’m not American so I don’t really count. Oh, well.
    It’s not just America, though. The whole world is going dumber by the minute, and I think not reading has a lot to do with it. Anyway, it’s good to know that someone out there reads like a maniac too…
    And hey, bubonic plague CAN be cool… as long as it doesn’t happen to you.

  • Libraries! Funny you should bring that up Joe, I just did a little field trip to downtown LA and went to the library there, it’s a MUST STOP if you visit here. There is so much beautiful art and when I stepped in I felt connected to my roots like I haven’t since I moved here to LA. Libraries were my life and my salvation when I was a kid, and in college. The silence…all the books…I was like a crack addict in an opium den. Home. I’ve decided to go check out my nearest library this weekend, just to see what it looks like. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

  • Michael

    Seven in a year? Wow, I think most people I know (and me) are at the point on that Gaussian where you can’t tell if it’s the axis or the distribution any more (end maths geekage)…

    I think my ‘to read’ pile stands at about 30 books at the moment, and is growing by the day (thank you, eBay…) – I would say about 60:40 slanted towards fiction, but it’s piled so that most of the non-fiction is at the top – that way, I read those first instead of getting distracted by the shiny sci-fi stuff.

    Felicia, I know what you mean about libraries being a salvation. Sadly, my local library has been criminally cut down over the last 2-3 years – I’d say they have less than a quarter of the books that they used to have, and their non-fiction section has been so horrendously pruned that their entire sciences selection fills one bookcase where it used to fill five. I think that definitely says something about how much people read in my area.

  • I have read less than 7 and none of them is “Obama”- or “Fabio”-like, just few coding books. And lotsa “crap” (i’m excluding here sports, politics, message boards, etc.) on internet from any science and technology areas where i felt i needed to learn more than i knew at that moment. And i feel no darn shame. I know that i would have loved to have read more of Steven King when i was a teenager but now my mature brain refuses to do so – what the hell am i going to learn from these book? Maybe improve my English? Nah, it’ll be better off to do both things at the same time.

    And Felicia, maybe you are not suppose to have the 1:1 ration and i’m glad you don’t as your blogs wouldn’t be so enjoyable to read. Maybe you are suppose to read “Fabio”-like books and “crap” on internet so you can later make “The quild”-like movies and create “felicia.net”-like blogsites. Huh? You ever thought about that?

  • Stefan

    It’s really not just you over there in america; I guess most of the younger generation never read one book because they wanted to (books you have to read for school don’t count). Little Brother: 1 Pratchett Book, plus a part of Harry Potter. Sister: Bit of HP too, but that’s more or less it. And it’s not just them – people I know have never read one book.. the few that do read books do it quite frequently (like I do), and some at least occassionaly (but nothing like 7/year).

    And I’m not even surprised anymore. After you found out that many 16+ are hardly able to read (without finger on the page, lips moving and help with dese difilt worts lyke “me”) you stop being surprised.. (but it makes you think about the future).

  • Heh, I just started the seventh Harry Potter. For the second time. After having re-read the entire series again. Things all fall into place differently after having read the last book, so I went back and restarted. So that’s 7 books in like three weeks.

    I still haven’t gotten the latest Anita Blake, I think I’ll go back and re-read all of those before I do so just so I can remember all the characters… tho I do recall the latter ones introduce so many new ones it’s hard to keep up…

    I did use to read much more educational books when I was in undergrad + grad schools. Some for school, many for enjoyment. But with career and family, I tend to read now more for relaxation rather than education.

    Well, except for my technical books. I have to keep my SysAdmin skills up to date…

  • Samantha

    I can’t say I’m overly surprised at 7/year. I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised. I don’t know how many books I read a week, because sometimes I like the book so much that I finish that day, and sometimes they’re longer (or more boring), so it takes me longer. Currently I’m reading Crime and Punishment, and I’m happy to say it hasn’t lost its steam, and I’m halfway through.

    I have the ratio goal too, but for me it’s 1:1 contemporary:classic. I can’t usually keep that up, but it helps me if I have my next book in line, so I’m motivated to move through the one I’m reading, if it’s slow.

    And it’s weird that you should mention picking an area and getting into it. I actually never used to do that, but I think I’m going through a mafia phase right now, sparked by my recent movie marathon. At End of Day is in line for when I finish C&P, and I’m trying to find a book about a woman in that life. (I think it’ll be difficult – the mafia is obviously very much a boy’s club.)

    Anyway, *sigh* to the state of the world. I’m sad that people, especially young people, don’t read more. I don’t want to sound mean or snobby, but I do kind of feel like I don’t have so much in common with people who don’t read. I have to think, what do you DO with all your time? I know the situation’s different when you’ve got a job and a family, but for my age-group (college), I think it’s ridiculous.

  • Edgar

    Felicia, you should start an online book club on your flog… I am in serious need of a list of must-read books.

    I would like to some day cite authors I read. I was lucky enough to visit a very nice bookstore in Portland, I was there for a Ruby On Rails Conference, called Powell’s (www.powells.com) that place is a reader’s dream come true. I was also lucky enough to be with someone well versed in the art of the read. Pointed me to some classic/great sci-fi books and now I still have a bunch of books yet to read.

    I am extremely interested in reading outside the sci-fi section, and even non-fiction but no idea where to start.

  • Chris

    Boris has a very valid point, and I somewhat agree.

    I think we are entering a age where otehr forms of media and communication are superceading books. I am using ‘The Guild’ as a prime example of what im on about. It seems like its a book turned video. Almost like an audio book where someone reads the words, weve entered the age where people act out the words.

    I dont think its that a society is becoming lazy or anything, i think its just were absorbing creativity in different ways.

    Whilst I read a lot of history books and always read the newspaper and magazines, I have to admit I find it very difficult to read 7 books a year that are novels. I find it very hard to sit down and regularly read a book, I get bored, which is part of the reason why I have a short attention span and find work hard. Subsequently I like the fact that books are turned into movies, a way I can take the creativity of a good book and digest it in a 2 or so hour one of block. Granted I dont get the sence of achievement after finishing a book and often a lot of content is removed to fit a time frame, but its good enough for me.

  • LOL Boris, your point is well taken. Had I been reading Shelly or Byron all day, I certainly wouldn’t have written about some crazy gamers 🙂

    I think it’s a valid point that movies and TV and internet are taking the place of reading and can substitute for learning, and I don’t want to be a snob about people who don’t read as much. I just worry because I don’t want authors to not be able to support themselves. There was an article about how college students are so used to using calculators that they can’t do the basic math in their heads, but they can do the more complex stuff fine. Is that an improvement or not? I guess you can argue either way.
    I know that watching video tutorials made me learn Dreamweaver WAY faster than had I read a book. But I also think there’s a retention issue I have with the internet that I don’t have with reading print. If I spend 3 hours surfing, at the end can I REALLY tell you what I learned/spent my time on? Er…no 🙂

    Samantha, I so admire your rule about 1 classic, 1 contemporary book! It’s really inspiring! I think I may make that rule about fiction and non-fiction. I have this book on the History of Spices that’s been on my shelf FOREVER, so I think it’s time to break it out.
    Edgar, your book club idea is pretty cool! If I did that I would want to add a forum to do it though, I hate having everyone’s intelligent comments buried under my initial post, and it would be nice to reply directly to the comment rather on the bottom of the page like it is now. I personally tend to find books by clicking on Amazon Lists, the ones people put together. I’ve found some really good authors that way because if someone lists a few books I like, I’m pretty sure I’ll like the other ones they recommend. It’s weird because I used to say I’d never shop online for books, I love browsing too much. But after being burned time after time at the big box stores because they don’t have a book’s sequel or something, it’s just way easier to buy it and have it shipped, and turns out to be easier to find other things that are recommended to me.

  • Paul

    7 books a year… oy. That is depressing. I think there is some truth to the rise in the Internet as an alternative source of literary material, but I also have a (perhaps overly cynical) hunch that people who read a lot online also read a fair bit offline, too, and that those who don’t read offline don’t do much online, either.

    And I think an online book club, or at least discussion forum, here would be wicked cool, as the kids today (should) say.

  • Jeff

    What Chris mentioned about competing forms of entertainment (TV, internet, and I’d include video games) does seem part of it.

    I’d just add time as being a factor. Between an 8 to 9-hour work day, commuting, eating dinner, spending time with friends/family, an average of 4-5 hours on television/internet, people eventually just want to…go to sleep. I suppose it’s a conscious choice not to read in that precious spare time – a shame, I agree, and I am ashamed of my recent book-neglect – but for some lifestyles, and all the televisions and computers and friends competing for your attention, it can be understandable.

    I know the time I used to spend reading fiction and non-fiction alike for entertainment I now mostly spend playing (too much) WOW (raiding. :().

    Also, those that did not read one book in the last year “[tend] to be older, less educated, lower income, minorities, from rural areas and less religious.” Which means more likely to be younger, educated, higher income, non-minority, from urban areas, and religious. Factor in that those religious individuals, who include the Bible as one of their books, are actually “older and married women, lower earners, minorities, lesser educated people, Southerners, rural residents, Republicans and conservatives, ” and you have interesting religious, gender, generational, racial, economic, and political stories, all intertwined. One could say the trends we’re seeing aren’t only due to changing times, but a reflection of the increasing diversity in “American society” driven by huge gaps in income and political affiliation.

    I totally bogged down the conversation, didn’t I? 🙁 lol.

  • Dustin

    TL; DR.

    You had that coming :P. Seriously though I read about 20 books a year. Mostly because I’ve ended up reading the same book 3 times. I like re-reading books a lot, some of them are very short like “Way of the Peaceful Warrior.” Some are quite long like “Atlas Shrugged” or reading several books of a series over again (Something I would consider one story). I don’t believe it’s really how much you read, but how varied your tastes are. I don’t like it when people tell me not to do or read certain things, I do them just out of spite at that point. Everyone I knew told me “Don’t read ‘The Fountainhead’ Ayn Rand is awful!” So guess what, I read two of her books, both of them twice this year. I’d say the best thing you can possibly do for yourself is to read something you don’t think you’ll like, or you’re not interested in. If anything giving books a chance is something that could seriously change your outlook on things. Conflict and challenging beliefs isn’t suppose to be something negative, but something essential.

  • There is another side of the story tho. There are people that niether read books nor they are internet users. These are type of people that work 5X12 when they get home all they can do is transform into coach potatoes or they are parents with kids and reading books or browsing is the last thing on their minds. These people need a calculator for simple tasks like how much is 20 (number of boxes) X 150 (number of items per box). Most of the people i work with are of this kind. I’m not saying they are stupid because they are not, they just have different type of knowledge that does not require reading books.

  • Jeff

    Basically what I was saying is that I blame reality television shows.

    And MySpace.

    😛

  • Edgar

    I blame Scooby-Doo…

  • Samantha

    I whole-heartedly agree with Jeff’s assessment of the evils of reality TV and MySpace.

  • Joe

    Is there still room on the Myspace haters bandwagon?

  • It isn’t a wagon, Joe, it’s a comet with a 5 mile trail 🙂

  • Oh common now it can’t be that bad on myspace.

  • Neil Myers

    Waaay late to this party, again, but I think most posters here do not appear to be aware of the luxury of time that they appear to have.

    Boris was onto something with the busy daily workers observation, though he went a bit off the rails with the calculator comment*. I’d bet I’m a bit older than your core demographic, but as a parent of middle- and high-school aged children the bulk of my time is spent working or ensuring they’re doing what they need to be, including getting them to where they need to do it. Waiting for them gives me some time to read, albeit in short, frequently interrupted periods. That’s part of parenting, spending a couple decades getting a new life off to a good start. I’ll hopefully have plenty of time to read when they’re on their own.

    So, yes, we can bemoan the lack of reading in society at large, but don’t forget to be grateful for the luxury of time you have to be able to read.

    *Believe it or not, I’m teaching my kids how to use a slide rule. Helpful for multiplication/division/ratios, but most powerful for developing a sense of magnitude, when the decimal place must be kept in your head. Yeah, I know. Major nerd.

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