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Reading Habits > NYTimes Article Reading is on the Rise

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message 1: by Meg (new)

Meg (megvt) | 100 comments The report, “Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy,” being released Monday, is based on data from “The Survey of Public Participation in the Arts” conducted by the United States Census Bureau in 2008. Among its chief findings is that for the first time since 1982, when the bureau began collecting such data, the proportion of adults 18 and older who said they had read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the previous 12 months has risen. .....

The proportion of adults reading some kind of so-called literary work — just over half — is still not as high as it was in 1982 or 1992, and the proportion of adults reading poetry and drama continued to decline. Nevertheless the proportion of overall literary reading increased among virtually all age groups, ethnic and demographic categories since 2002. It increased most dramatically among 18-to-24-year-olds, who had previously shown the most significant declines.

“There has been a measurable cultural change in society’s commitment to literary reading,” said Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “In a cultural moment when we are hearing nothing but bad news, we have reassuring evidence that the dumbing down of our culture is not inevitable.”

Under Mr. Gioia’s leadership the endowment spearheaded “The Big Read,” a program in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest to encourage communities to champion the reading of particular books, like “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston. The report is being released just over a week before Mr. Gioia steps down after six years as the endowment’s chairman.

Four years ago the endowment released the report “Reading at Risk,” which showed that fewer than half of Americans over 18 read novels, short stories, plays or poetry. That survey, based on data gathered in 2002, provoked a debate among academics, publishers and others about why reading was declining. Some argued that it wasn’t, criticizing the study for too narrowly defining reading by focusing on the literary side, and for not explicitly including reading that occurred online.

In each survey since 1982 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.

Mr. Gioia said that Internet reading was included in the 2008 data, although the phrasing of the central question had not changed since 1982. But he said he did not think that more reading online was the primary reason for the increase in literary reading rates overall.

Instead he attributed the increase in literary reading to community-based programs like the “Big Read,” Oprah Winfrey’s book club, the huge popularity of book series like “Harry Potter” and Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight,” as well as the individual efforts of teachers, librarians, parents and civic leaders to create “a buzz around literature that’s getting people to read more in whatever medium.”

This apparent reversal came a little more than a year after the endowment released an overwhelmingly pessimistic report in 2007 that linked a decline in reading-test scores to a fall in reading for fun among adolescents. That report also collected data showing that the proportion of adults who read regularly for pleasure had declined. At the time Mr. Gioia called the data “simple, consistent and alarming.”

Elizabeth Birr Moje, an education professor at the University of Michigan who specializes in literacy, language and culture, said it was impossible to do more than speculate why literary reading rates had increased in the most recent survey. The rise could just as easily be attributed to changes in health care or a need for escape in difficult economic times, she said.

What’s more, Ms. Moje added, it was an isolated piece of information. “It’s just a blip,” she said. “If you look at trend data, you will always see increases and decreases in people’s literate practices.”

Among ethnic groups the latest report found that the proportion of literary reading increased most for what the study classifies as Hispanic Americans, rising to 31.9 percent in 2008 for adults 18 and over, from 26.5 percent in 2002. The highest percentage of literary reading was among whites, at 55.7 percent, up from 51.4 percent in 2002. The rate of literary reading among men 18 and older increased to 41.9 percent in 2008, from 37.6 percent in 2002. The proportion also increased among women, to 58 percent in 2008, from 55.1 percent in 2002.

At the same time the survey found that the proportion of adults who said they had read any kind of a book, fiction or nonfiction, that was not required for work or school actually declined slightly since 2002, to 54.3 percent from 56.6 percent.

Mr. Gioia said that the decline in book reading might be attributable to a falloff in the reading of nonfiction, although he offered no explicit evidence of that.

Patricia Schroeder, president of the Association of American Publishers, suggested that some people might not count the reading they do online or even on electronic readers like the Kindle as “book” reading.

Jim Rettig, president of the American Library Association and university librarian at the University of Richmond, said that the 2008 data would not reflect a recent uptick in circulation at libraries. As the economy has soured, Mr. Rettig said, “people are discovering that you don’t have to spend anything to read a book if you have a library card.”

message 2: by Lori (new)

Lori Walker I knew at some point college was going to factor into it. I was planning my comment on it. And then the writer of the article saved me from being harshly sarcastic. Anyway, it's good news that reading for 18-24 year olds is on the rise overall, even if a lot of it has to do with school.

message 3: by Tressa (new)

Tressa  (moanalisa) I work at a library and I know first-hand how many people are mad for their favorite books and authors.

It was always my opinion that teens read less because they hit that age between childhood and adulthood and had so much more to distract them from books, namely socializing. I'm happy to see books such as Harry Potter and Twilight have shown them that reading is a great adventure.

The rise of urban fiction has brought many new readers into the libraries.

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