Let there be no doubt: the natural wealth of this nation, and 'free enterprise capitalism -the right to make as much money as you can in any way you can and spend it any way you want'- has made ours 'the world of successfully mind-numbing television and
film, sports news and entertainment' -'the greatest nation in the world' with the greatest percentage of smug, overconfident and overfed ignorants.
4 Minutes Audio on Human Nature and Continuing Human Existence
November 19, 2007 Los Angeles Times
A growing crisis in American literacy
Fewers adults than ever report reading even one book a year, says disturbing new NEA report.
By Hillel Italie, Associated Press
NEW YORK -- The latest National Endowment for the Arts report draws on a variety of sources, public and private, and essentially reaches one conclusion: Americans are reading less.
The study, "To Read or Not Read," is being released today as a follow-up to a 2004 NEA survey, "Reading at Risk," that found an increasing number of adult Americans were not even reading one book a year.
"To Read or Not to Read" gathers an array of government, academic and foundation data on everything from how many 9-year-olds read every day for "fun" (54%) to the percentage of high school graduates deemed by employers as "deficient"
in writing in English (72%).
"I've done a lot of work in statistics in my career and I've never seen a situation where so much data was pulled from so many places and absolutely everything is so consistent," NEA Chairman Dana Gioia said.
Among the findings in the 99-page study:
* In 2002, only 52% of Americans ages 18 to 24, the college years, read a book voluntarily, down from 59% in 1992.
* Money spent on books, after being adjusted for inflation, dropped 14% from 1985 to 2005 and has fallen dramatically since the mid-1990s.
* The number of adults possessing bachelor's degrees and "proficient in reading prose" dropped from 40% in 1992 to 31% in 2003.
An age gap
Some of the news is good, notably among 9-year-olds, whose reading comprehension scores have soared since the early 1990s. But at the same time, the number of 17-year-olds who "never or hardly ever" read for pleasure has doubled, to 19%, and their
comprehension scores have fallen.
"I think there's been an enormous investment in teaching kids to read in elementary school," Gioia said. "Kids are doing better at 9 and at 11. At 13, they're doing no worse, but then you see his catastrophic falloff. . . . If kids are
put into this electronic culture without any counterbalancing efforts, they will stop reading."
Publishers and booksellers have noted that teen fiction is a rapidly expanding category in an otherwise flat market, but the NEA's director of research, Sunil Iyengar, wondered how much of that growth has been caused by the Harry Potter
books, the last of which came out in July.
"It's great that millions of kids are reading these long, intricate novels, but reading one such book every 18 months doesn't make up for daily reading," Gioia said.
Doug Whiteman, president of the Penguin Young Readers Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA), said sales of teen books were the strongest part of his business.
But he added that a couple of factors could explain why scores were dropping: Adults are also buying the Potter books, thus making the teen market seem bigger on paper, and some sales are for non-English-language books.
"There are so many nuances," Whiteman said. "Reading scores don't necessarily have any relevance to today's sales."
The head of Simon & Schuster's children's publishing division, Rick Richter, saw another reason why sales could rise even as scores go down: A growing gap between those who read and those who don't.
Richter considers it "very possible" that the market is driven by a relatively small number of young people who buy large numbers of books. Test scores, meanwhile, are lowered by the larger population of teens who don't read. "A divide
like that is really a cause for concern," Richter said.
The report emphasizes the social benefits of reading: "Literary readers" are more likely to exercise, visit art museums, keep up with current events, vote in presidential elections and perform volunteer work.
"This should explode the notion that reading is somehow a passive activity," Gioia said. "Reading creates people who are more active by any measure. . . . People who don't read, who spend more of their time watching TV or on the
Internet, playing video games, seem to be significantly more passive."
Sounding the alarm
Gioia called the decline in reading "perhaps the most important socioeconomic issue in the United States" and called for changes "in the way we're educating kids, especially in high school and college."
"We need to reconnect reading with pleasure and enlightenment," he said.
" 'To Read or Not Read' suggests we are losing the majority of the new generation," Gioia added. "The majority of young Americans will not realize their individual, economic or social potential."
November 19, 2007, All Things Considered
Reading Study Shows Remarkable Decline in U.S.
by Lynn Neary
NPR.org, September 5, 2007
Why Women Read More Than Men
by Eric Weiner
A couple of years ago, British author Ian McEwan conducted an admittedly unscientific experiment. He and his son waded into the lunch-time crowds at a London park and began handing out free books. Within a few minutes, they had given away 30 novels.
Nearly all of the takers were women, who were "eager and grateful" for the freebies while the men "frowned in suspicion, or distaste." The inevitable conclusion, wrote McEwan in The Guardian newspaper: "When women stop reading, the
novel will be dead."
McEwan's prognosis is surely hyperbole, but only slightly. Surveys consistently find that women read more books than men, especially fiction. Explanations abound, from the biological differences between the male and female brains, to
the way that boys and girls are introduced to reading at a young age.
One thing is certain: Americans—of either gender—are reading fewer books today than in the past. A poll released last month by The Associated Press and Ipsos, a market-research firm, found that the typical American read only four books
last year, and one in four adults read no books at all.
A National Endowment for the Arts report found that only 57 percent of Americans had read a book in 2002 a four percentage-point drop in a decade. Book sales have been flat in recent years and are expected to stay that way for the
Among avid readers surveyed by the AP, the typical woman read nine books in a year, compared with only five for men. Women read more than men in all categories except for history and biography.
Hemingway as 'Chick-Lit'
When it comes to fiction, the gender gap is at its widest. Men account for only 20 percent of the fiction market, according to surveys conducted in the U.S., Canada and Britain.
By this measure, "chick-lit" would have to include Hemingway and nearly every other novel, observes Lakshmi Chaudhry in the magazine In These Times. "Unlike the gods of the literary establishment who remain predominately male—both as
writers and critics—their humble readers are overwhelmingly female."
Book groups consist almost entirely of women, and the spate of new literary blogs are also populated mainly by women. The Associated Press study stirred a small buzz among some of those bloggers.
"I've read at least 100 books in the past year. Seriously. Probably more like 150 to 200," a user named Phyllis wrote on the literary blog Trashionista. "My husband? I'm guessing zero, unless you count picture books and comic books he
has read to the kids."
"We see it every time in our store," says Carla Cohen, owner of the Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. "Women head straight for the fiction section and men head for nonfiction."
"I know that we certainly have more women than men customers," concurs Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, an independent bookstore in the Miami area. "But I don't have any wisdom about why that is."
Kaplan speculates that women may be buying books for men, but he concedes that could be simply wishful thinking.
It's All in Your Head
Theories attempting to explain the "fiction gap" abound. Cognitive psychologists have found that women are more empathetic than men, and possess a greater emotional range—traits that make fiction more appealing to them.
Some experts see the genesis of the "fiction gap" in early childhood. At a young age, girls can sit still for much longer periods of time than boys, says Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain.
"Girls have an easier time with reading or written work, and it's not a stretch to extrapolate [that] to adult life," Brizendine says. Indeed, adult women talk more in social settings and use more words than men, she says.
Another theory focuses on "mirror neurons." Located behind the eyebrows, these neurons are activated both when we initiate actions and when we watch those same actions in others. Mirror neurons explain why we recoil when seeing others
in pain, or salivate when we see other people eating a gourmet meal. Neuroscientists believe that mirror neurons hold the biological key to empathy.
The research is still in its early stages, but some studies have found that women have more sensitive mirror neurons than men. That might explain why women are drawn to works of fiction, which by definition require the reader to
empathize with characters.
"Reading requires incredible patience, and the ability to 'feel into' the characters. That is something women are both more interested in and also better at than men," says Brizendine.
Rekindling the Reading Magic
There are exceptions to the fiction gap. More boys than girls have read The Harry Potter series, according to its U.S. publisher, Scholastic. What's more, Harry Potter made more of an impact on boys' reading habits. Sixty-one percent agreed with the
statement "I didn't read books for fun before reading Harry Potter," compared with 41 percent of girls.
For publishers and booksellers, that offers a ray of hope—not only that the fiction gap might not be so insurmountable after all, but also that another, more worrisome gap might also be closing: the age gap. Young people, in general,
read less than older people, and that does not bode well for books and the people who love them.
"What all of us are wondering is what will happen with this new generation that doesn't read much," says bookstore owner Carla Cohen. "What happens when they grow up?"