From the Department of Meaningless Coincidences:

One in four adults read no books at all in the past year, accord­ing to an Associated Press-​​Ipsos poll released Tuesday.

It’s not as obvi­ous as you might think. The story goes on to detail some of the demo­graph­ics. The 25% of self-​​admitted annual illit­er­ates does not, in fact, over­lap the cadre of Bush sup­port­ers. Many of them seem to be from rural, poverty-​​stricken and pos­si­bly under­e­d­u­cated regions, which isn’t sur­pris­ing; and inter­est­ingly the national median for books read in the last year was just seven.

Seven.

Hell, I ate that many Pratchett nov­els in a two-​​month window.*

Fewer men, appar­ently, read; and of those that do, non­fic­tion is pre­ferred. Women seem more ready to include fic­tion, and poetry and clas­si­cal lit are hov­er­ing at around 5% consumption.

This means, of course, that I read like a girl. A nerdy girl. Sigh.

Religious right­ies and uptight Republicans are more likely to have read the Bible and religious-​​themed works — big sur­prise there — while college-​​educated peo­ple of both gen­ders tended to have both the largest con­sump­tion and the broad­est palates. I’m assum­ing Liberty University would con­sti­tute a sta­tis­ti­cal anom­aly here.

The list of causes cited for the dropoff in read­ing is par­tic­u­larly strange:

Analysts attribute the list­less­ness to com­pe­ti­tion from the Internet and other media, the unsteady econ­omy and a well-​​established indus­try with lim­ited oppor­tu­ni­ties for expansion.

The net, DVDs, cable and video games I can under­stand, sure. When I first brought home Oblivion, for instance, I played it for about 14 hours solid. Seriously. I had not expected to like it as much as I did.

But what the hell does an “unsteady econ­omy” have to do with adult lit­er­acy or read­ing rates? People read less when we’re tee­ter­ing on the edge of eco­nomic ruin? Why? Don’t cer­tain titles sell more suc­cess­fully then?

I seem to recall, when out­sourc­ing became a seri­ous prob­lem, that many fatu­ous ass­hats were rec­om­mend­ing Who Moved My Cheese? to the tens of thou­sands — and later mil­lions — of Americans whose liveli­hood was com­pro­mised by American cor­po­rate greed. Maybe sales of the book have fallen off because blam­ing the vic­tim for his job­less­ness, in the face of a cat­a­strophic eco­nomic implo­sion, is just a lit­tle too brass-​​ballsish even for the worst of the cap­i­tal­ist apologists.

As for indus­try and expan­sion issues — is there a cor­re­la­tion between some­thing like leisure activ­ity choice and growth capacity?

Maybe there is; maybe these two inter­est­ing fac­tors dove­tail. They might both be tied in to a sense of des­per­ate hope­less­ness, and des­per­ately hope­less peo­ple might not be as inclined to relax with a book in favor of a beer or six or twenty; or, worse, a night of American Idol–bation.

The prob­lem, as I see it, is that this can only make the whole damn sit­u­a­tion dete­ri­o­rate even more. This nation used to take pride in intel­lec­tual devel­op­ment and tech­no­log­i­cal supe­ri­or­ity. We used to have unpar­al­leled sci­en­tific research pro­grams. We used to strive for accep­tance of those unlike our­selves. We used to trum­pet the con­cept of the “melt­ing pot” and actively value broad lib­eral edu­ca­tion programs.

A lot of that began to slip away in the early 1980s. About the same time the inaptly-​​named “Moral Majority” was formed. About the same time the right-​​wingers began their tramp to polit­i­cal power.

And if you think that’s a mean­ing­less coin­ci­dence, you’re not pay­ing attention.

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* Strangely enough, given my love of the work of Douglas Adams, it was only about four months ago that I began read­ing the Discworld books.

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