I’ve been itching to post here for about a week and have 3 things I am compelled to comment on. Could it be *gasp* that I miss school?!? Perhaps or maybe my Education education addicted me to reflection.
What I want to tackle today is the new National Endowment for the Arts reading report. They’ve done this survey 5 times since 1982 and have been one of the top voices crying out for the coming demise of reading and books as we know it. The numbers of teens and adults responding they read had been steadily decreasing. Of course library folk follow these studies because for the past few millennia readers and the books they need have been our bread and butter. And then here comes 2008’s report, “Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy” that found the numbers have increased.
First off, the survey and report count reading as literary reading, that is specifically fiction reading. Specifically not nonfiction reading like NYTimes bestsellers The Secret or Marley and Me. True I wouldn’t consider those “literary” but the survey also leaves out the history and biography (the categories of nonfiction I read.) Until this year the survey also left out the Internet. Which gets at the heart of my point and alsoDavid L. Ulin at the Los Angles Times, what is reading? Which leads always to the bigger question, is it important that we read or what we read?
Observing the people around me, lots of people read. I know very few people who read nothing. It’s taken me a while to understand that not everyone reads as much as I do or care as much about books. But I pass books with my friends, belong to a book club, and count people on the train, readers vs Blackberries. People are reading. Seems though it isn’t good enough. We need to be reading the classics or highly dense literary novels or poetry. A quote from theNYTimes article by Motoko Rich that kinda set me off.
“The data did not differentiate between those who read several books a month and those who read only one poem. Nor did the surveys distinguish between those who read the complete works of Proust or Dickens and those who read one Nora Roberts novel or a single piece of fan fiction on the Internet.”
HUH? What is that? Are we giving out medals to people who get through Proust and beating Nora Roberts’ readers? Because it’s on the Internet and written by an unpublished author it’s not poetry? I’m sure there are many people who can read Proust and not connect to the work in any way (hand raised high right here.) So you’ve read something literary or classic or long, boring and dry and got nothing out of it. Is that a meaningful reading experience that has enriched your life? Reading is more than decoding letters and words. A whole experience happens that leads to understanding and internalization. So for gathering numbers and stats on people who read, WHO CARES WHAT YOU READ??
I also think that reading was never growing unpopular. New media, like TV, youtube and video games are offering new ways of telling stories. Because if we’re following NEA’s definition of literary reading then reading is reading stories, form aside. So there is competition now in the storytelling market. Teen reading was hit biggest last time around that rebounded this time. Let’s be honest, in the early 90’s-00’s what was really good to read in YA town? The publishing industry was just starting to deliver quality YA titles that weren’t Sweet Valley High. I jumped straight from the kids department to the adult cause there was no in between then. Again, I don’t think the sky is falling and people aren’t reading, literary or not. I think our definition of reading is slowly changing and our methods of receiving text as well. We will still read in the future, it’s the what I can’t predict.