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Read a book, stupid

So you know how you've been harboring a sneaking suspicion that people are just getting dumber? The latest report by the National Endowment by the Arts would seem to back you up. The Associated Press reports that the NEA is releasing a report Monday that indicates people - that's kids and adults - are reading less. Surprise, surprise. What are all those people doing in Barnes & Noble and Borders, then, buying coffee?

The report says that in 2002 only 52 percent of Americans aged 18-24 read a book voluntarily. OK, maybe the college kids are partying studying too hard to settle down with a good book. And there is some positive news: the report says 9-year-olds have improved their reading comprehension skills impressively, possibly due to a certain young wizard and his adventures.

But Harry Potter is grown up and married with kids of his own now, so it's time to move on. And apparently readers aren't: The scariest stat says the number of adults with bachelor's degrees who possess something called "proficiency in reading prose" dropped from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent in 2002.

So don't blame the drunken exhausted college kids; they have an excuse for not reading for pleasure. If you're not reading, and you're not teaching your kids about reading, the problem is you. And don't give me that "I'm too busy to read" nonsense. If you like to read, you always find time. You may hit a period where you read less, but you always find time.

By the way, reading Television Without Pity doesn't count, no matter how entertaining it is.



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Phoebe Flowers

I think the B&N/Borders shoppers ARE often just buying coffee, yes. And while they're buying (or drinking) that coffee, I have observed them reading (but not buying) self-help books -- which is a sign, perhaps, that the self-help books are working to at least make the readers smart enough to not pay money for them -- and copying, by hand, recipes out of lavish, expensive recipe books. (Which is also rather thrifty.) For me, I tend to wander around, gather up a bunch of books, and then read the ones I don't actually intend to buy over coffee. (For example, I wanted to read Chuck Klosterman's old interviews with Britney Spears and Jeff Tweedy -- shut up -- in his collection "IV," but I did not want to pay for it.) And then I bought two books, one of which was the hardover of "God's Harvard," by Hanna Rosin, whom I saw at the book fair. You'd really love it, except that it might make you ragingly angry in the manner of "Jesus Camp." But she's an incredible writer, and it's admirably balanced and sympathetic.

Meanwhile, I read about two books a week, sometimes more, although that's usually just as a compulsive activity to avoid doing things I actually need to do, such as cleaning my house or doing any work (as my editors could tell you). So one could argue that I really should read less.

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