Folklore, History & the Study of Myth

The Writings of Gary R. Varner


Are Books and Readers Becoming Extinct?

Posted by Gary R. Varner on December 3, 2007 at 11:09 AM
A recent report published by the National Endowment for the Arts indicates that only 47% of American adults read for pleasure--and only 57% read any book at all during 2002. Undoubtedly the numbers are even more grim today with hundreds of thousands of books being published but few being read. The report goes on to say that the number of non-reading adults increased by 17 million between 1992 and 2002--to a staggering 89.9 million adults. Has illiteracy become more attractive and useful than knowledge? Have books that give the reader a bit of history, social understanding, and humanity become blase and useless?

The Book Industry Study Group reported that the number of books sold in the United States in 2003 had dropped by 23 million from the previous year.

The loss in readership is not tied to economics or race or education. The drop in readers occured in every segment of society and among every age group. There were a few standouts however. Only 38 percent of poor adult males and only 26.5 percent of Hispanics as a whole read one book. The most distressing loss is among the young. The number of individuals between the age of 18 to 24 that read any book dropped by 10 percent to 43 percent.

What has contributed the most to this disaster? Unfortunately it appears that the electronic media is to blame. Kids using text messaging no longer know how to spell or use a complete written sentence. A few years ago I knew a young woman who was finishing her masters degree and complained that she had an assignment to write a 1,000 word paper. That's equivalent to approximately 4 typed pages. For a masters program!

When my children were younger and in middle and high school I had an opportunity to see their libraries. I use the word "library" loosely. There were more computers than books. The loss in knowledge and in the printed word is directly tied to the poor judgement of educators who believe that knowing how to use a PC is more important than knowing how to do real research, more important than expanding the brain and one's humanity by reading about other cultures, problems, solutions and viewpoints.

While the report was titled that "reading at risk", perhaps it should have been called "America at risk."  

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