The National Endowment for the Arts says the number of American adults who read literature has fallen to 46.7 percent from 56.9 percent in 1982. This is a glass half-empty, half-full situation. While reading is declining, there are still many people reading. (By the way, “literature” is defined as novels, short stories, poetry, and plays. While Bill Clinton’s “My Life” could arguably be described as fiction, technically it doesn’t fall under the literature heading.)
Contrary to popular wisdom, it’s not necessarily all TV’s fault. “Literary readers average 2.7 hours of TV daily, compared with 3.1 hours for the numbskulls reading either “Diana” or nothing at all.” Women read more than men, and the heaviest readers live in the Mountain states (Montana-Wyoming through Nevada to New Mexico.)
Rather than TV as the killer of books, the author of the article says it’s obvious that the Internet is at fault. He cites the modest decline in reading from 1982 to 1992, but a sharp drop over the past 10 years. I’ll agree that web-reading is a boot camp for attention deficit disorder. But surely some of the decline can also be attributable to a lesser selection of works to read. Without doing a scientific survey, it’s surely not a great reach to say that at least 60 percent of the fiction in the average Barnes and Noble right now is not worth the paper it’s written on. (I’m being generous, too.) And that’s not literary snobbery. I’ve read a lot of good pulpy fiction, frothy and light fiction. No, I mean there’s a lot of “serious” fiction that’s little more than ego and poor writing wrapped up tightly in a package of marketing and politically correct buzz.
So, like most things, the decline in reading doesn’t have a simple cause. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have a nice novel waiting for me.