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.
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.
* 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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