August 22, 2007

Who's reading books?

We're told one in four adults didn't read a single book last year as if this is a shockingly low number, but I'm impressed that three in four did read a book. And why fuss over books? A lot of the books read are trash. (The linked article says the top picks were religion and and popular fiction.) And plenty of serious reading doesn't come in book form. Let's take a look at some of these "avid" -- that's always the word, "avid," unless it's "voracious" -- book readers:
"I go into another world when I read," said Charlotte Fuller, 64, a retired nurse from Seminole, Fla., who said she read 70 books in the last year. "I read so many sometimes I get the stories mixed up."...

Pollyann Baird, 84, a retired school librarian in Loveland, Colo., says J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter fantasy series is her favorite. But she has forced herself to not read the latest and final installment, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," because she has yet to file her income taxes this year due to an illness and worries that once she started the book, "I know I'd have to finish it."
Excuse me if I'm not impressed by the superiority of these avid book reader characters.
More women than men read every major category of books except for history and biography. Industry experts said that confirms their observation that men tend to prefer nonfiction.
Let me guess: Philosophy isn't a "major category." Nor is science. Or technology.
"Fiction just doesn't interest me," said Bob Ryan, 41, who works for a construction company in Guntersville, Ala. "If I'm going to get a story, I'll get a movie."
Going to the movies tends to be a social activity, and most movies are fiction. The notion that everyone ought to read novels is quite ridiculous. All these stories. You might get them mixed up.
Those likeliest to read religious books included older and married women, lower earners, minorities, lesser educated people, Southerners, rural residents, Republicans and conservatives.
A scurrilous group!

ADDED: Norm riffs:
[S]nce the 'typical person', according to the report, claims to have read four books, it would be interesting to know which books they didn't read.
Tracey Q. Pettigrew of Plains, Georgia, did not read The Magus by John Fowles
As I say, what is one to do? I do what I can, is all. And what I can do here is offer advice to the guy who says, 'I just get sleepy when I read.' This is my advice. First, don't read in bed before going to sleep if that is what happens to you; go to bed an hour earlier, wake up an hour earlier, and read for an hour before getting up. Second, if you sit down to read during the day, and feel sleepy, take a swift nap - 15 to 20 minutes - and read when you wake up. And third, don't bother with ... The Magus. Tracey is right.


Jeff with one 'f' said...

What percentage of the "three in four" listen to audiobooks and call it "reading"?

Ron said...

haven't these religious readers heard of paxlexsex? Is this the same post? Oh, if only this were a vlog...

Maxine Weiss said...

You won't fall asleep with large-print.

dave in boca said...

Pat Schroeder called conservatives dumb cuz they don't read her kind of books. I am a conservative and read about fifty books last year, a dozen in French and a couple in German and Italian. Plus one in Spanish.

I get a charge out of watching Schroeder, best known for her fatuous tears after quitting a race for the Presidency, now also is known for vacant-mindedly bashing part of her own constituency as the head of a non-profit publishing association. Dumber than dirt, or a bucket of hair.

And getting high sniffing her own farts.

MadisonMan said...

I am a conservative and read about fifty books last year, a dozen in French and a couple in German and Italian. Plus one in Spanish.

Ooh, you must be very smart then.

J. Cricket said...

Books are threatening to academics who spend most of their time blogging. You have to do actual research to write a book. You also have to make an extended argument, deal with opposing arguments, cite sources, and pass some kind of editorial review. You cannot be flippant or respond to critics by saying "oh that post? I was just being provocative."

Books are intellectual heavy lifting.

If your academic life has devolved into something much more lightweight, it must be very threatening indeed to have so many people around you doing actual scholarly work.

David said...

I liked the Magus, so there.

Danny from Milwaukee said...

I kinda liked the Magus too. Although it most definately did NOT adapt well to film. Yikes, that was a bad movie.

Anthony said...

We had a similar discussion in another forum I post at. I mostly quit reading fiction 10-15 years ago because I started to question why I was spending time reading stuff that somebody made up in their head. It became especially bizarre when I listened to NPR's Talk of the Nation's monthly book club thing and listener's called in to debate what particular characters were "feeling" or what they were "thinking" or what was "motivating them". Um, nothing really, "they" are just words on a page.

So, it's been science, history of science, and other geeky stuff since then. Though I still read the occasional Sci Fi novel, and some old literature (Poe, Swift, etc.).

Jeremy said...

I like how thinkprogress took one look at the poll and crowed about how liberals read more than conservatives. Check this total crap out. Man, liberals like, read 9 books a year and conservatives only read 8. They're so dumb!!!! lololol

I'm not sure exactly what conclusions you can draw from the survey, anyway. It seems true that a lot of exposure to print media affects the way you think, but print media varies too much in quality. What someone reads should be more important than how much, surely.

Typically, I'll read nonfiction (mainly either philosophy, history, or media studies stuff) unless I get on some kind of big genre kick and read, say, 10 or 15 mysteries within a week or two. Or decide to reread my Robert E. Howard stories, or whatever. But those books are like crack, and once or twice a year I need a fix.

Maxine Weiss said...

"I'm not sure exactly what conclusions you can draw from the survey"---jeremy

One conclusion is, that Oprah has failed in her mission and, evidently, made things worse.

knox said...

Southerners who do read, however, tend to read more books, mostly religious books and romance novels, than people from other regions.

Ther's a lot of subtle little caveats in this sentence. Southerners read more books--but don't worry, you can still think of them as dumb--because the ones "who do read" (there aren't many, you know, even though they read more) are reading crap.

Laura Reynolds said...

I don't read as much as I'd like, my schedule does not afford me long periods without interruptions which I prefer. I normally don't read fiction, I can usually tell by the subject matter whether I will enjoy a non fiction book.

AllenS said...

Do tractor repair manuals count?

Bender said...

How many books have I read cover-to-cover in the last year? I don't know, two or three maybe? Not a lot, so that must mean I'm fairly illiterate, right?

And yet, I've read portions of a few dozen nonfiction books as personal reading, and I've read thousands upon thousands upon thousands of pages of material for work purposes. Frankly, with so much reading that I do, I rarely have the patience or desire to read an entire book from cover-to-cover. My job requires extensive reading, and I'm worn out, and I really don't want to do in my personal time what I have to do for work. I need a break!

Crimso said...

"Books are intellectual heavy lifting"

I would argue that peer-reviewed journal articles are moreso, and major grant applications even moreso.

Kevin Lomax said...

I don't know about other law students, but during the school year, my reading for fun rate drops to a big fat zero. Hard to justify skimming pulp fiction or finishing a novel when you have 150 pages of torts to read for the next week.

Chip Ahoy said...

Oh boy. Pat Schroeder, what dave in boca ^^^ says, agreed! But why understate things? She was my congresswoman and I must admit to never having been so embarrassed as when she appeared on Celebrity Jeopardy!, a game show that relies on alacrity, positively dumbed down so Pat could play. Tried to play.

"My click er iz stuck ."

"My click er iz stuck ."

She kept whining ( s-l-o-w--y ) after consistently punching in too late thus becoming locked out. She dragged down the show to a new low level of dumbness and slowness. I'm certain Alex Trebek was thinking, "God help our congress."

Friends hosted meet-the-candidate parties where I was able to see first-hand her astounding dumbness, Harvard Law School notwithstanding. She, who chaired Gary Hart's campaign, she, an anti-war liberal democrat, the chair of the House Armed Services sub-committee.

Dirt and buckets of hair are smart by comparison, yet she has the temerity to project her dumb views onto her dumb conceptualization of the other. Didn't know about the crying. By then I had long tuned her out as much as possible.

Plus she has bad hair.

Two of my most anxious, noisily vocal, misinformed liberal friends managed high-school without ever reading a single book. They confided they don't like reading. I suggested Interview With a Vampire to one, and Harry Potter to another. Being compulsive types, they both devoured the series. Other than that, all their political views come from movies. In fact, I've been told I'm not properly informed until I watch Fahrenheit 9-11. Thus, in their view I remain improperly informed.

And here's Pat being dumb again spouting aggressively stupid things about books.

Charlotte Fuller, comments on reading 1.3 books a week, so many she gets the stories mixed up. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha OMG that's FUNNY!

(I must leave out from this discussion my awesome pop-up book collection even though they're brilliant.)

reneviht said...

I must confess I'm not sure why reading fiction is so often considered intellectual. Sure, you have to do a fair amount of mindwork to enjoy it - taking in information, rendering it into events, etc. - but the same is true of video games. Naturally, it's a different kind of work - more proactive than written fiction - but it should still be apparent to anyone who approaches it with an open mind.

Christy said...

My contempt for The Magus knows no bounds. Poe could have done the first half in a single page and the last half is misogynistic crap that suggests Fowles inadequate libido had to be propped up with fantasy and his inadequate intellect had to be propped up with the seriousness of Nazi occupation and myth.

Of course, romance novels are little better. I hadn't read any in years and then was shocked to pick one up recently and see that they are now soft core porn.

My experience of book groups is that most of us turn more and more to non-fiction as we age. Arnold Bennett, novelist, suggested that novels were a waste of time to a man wanting to engage his intellect fully in How to Live on 24 Hours a Day.

Me? I read a lot of books so I guess that makes me a liberal. So why do I have these strange feelings of support for the war? I'm also smarter than most anyone else I meet, so there is more evidence that I'm a liberal. So why my total disdain for Gore? I just can't figure it out.

Revenant said...

You also have to make an extended argument, deal with opposing arguments, cite sources, and pass some kind of editorial review.

Er, no -- you don't have to do any of those things in a book. You're thinking of peer-reviewed journal articles.

KCFleming said...

I am addicted to reading. I read while walking, at church, and at football games. Because of this, I believe over time I have come to know wisdom when I read it.

But it doesn't make me wise.

That just takes practice; it cannot be gleaned from the printed page, any more than one can make a table just because you see the plans in Family Handyman or play golf because you finished Dave Pelz's Short Game Bible.

Or that you can love because you read the actual Bible. Reading books is a good thing, but it's not a proxy for intellect.

I'm Full of Soup said...

What Pogo said and then some.

And I agree with several others here who pointed out how frigging dumb Pat Schoreder must be to criticize a portion of the reading public?? Which is her group's target audience.

XWL said...

LOL Schroeder?!?

(and yes, my ongoing use of LOL captioned photos as commentary was somewhat inspired by the Ekberg series here at Althouse)

hdhouse said...

Karl Rove said the GWBush read 152 books last year...notwithstanding that covers don't count can this explain why the children's section of the whitehouse library is.....

Richard Dolan said...

All the snarkiness about readers and reading is a bit odd in a blog. After all, the only thing going on here is reading and writing. I suppose that most people who read books do it for the same reason that bloggers (and commenters on blogs) blog: they enjoy it and (presumably) get some degree of satisfaction out of it. In all events, there is no necessary correlation between being an avid reader and being (a) smart, (b) well-informed, (c) attactive, (d) thin, or (e) politically lefty. (Of course, there is no necessary negative correlation either.)

The fiction-is-a-waste-of-time idea has a way of popping up whenever the conversation turns to the subject of reading. Please. Lots of junk, in every category, is published annually -- science, history, economics, politics, you name it. Fiction is no better or worse. When it's done well, the reader of a good novel gets to know someone else's character, motives, reactions to whatever life (or the author) throws at them. Whether the reader benefits from it (however measured) depends on both the reader and the book. In that regard, fiction is no different from history, biography, philosophy, science or any other "major category."

The enthusiasm for "peer reviewed articles" is also a bit depressing, to say the least. In my admittedly limited experience, articles by academics in specialized, peer-reviewed journals aimed at other academics in the same field (and no one else) tend towards the deadly dull, jargon heavy end of things. It doesn't seem to make much difference whether the peer-reviewed article deals with literature, sociology, economics, or whatever. That may be of interest to the specialist, but I can't imagine a general reader getting past a paragraph or two of that stuff. But, as I said, I don't have a lot of experience with that stuff, and it may be that over the years I've just chosen poorly.

So, to Charlotte Fuller, who read 70 books in the last year, and all those other avid, voracious readers of religion and popular fiction out there, relax and enjoy your book. Or not, as the case may be. Just remember that life is short, so pick wisely when you start your next book (or article or blog or ...) and don't worry if, halfway through, you decide not to proceed.

ricpic said...

If 1 out of 4 could build a deck, repair a leaky roof, fix the plumbing when it leaks or rewire the house, we'd be in better shape. Practical. That's what's needed.

Stephen said...

Those likeliest to read religious books included older and married women, lower earners, minorities, lesser educated people, Southerners, rural residents, Republicans and conservatives.
Hmm....the AP writer distinguished "lesser educated people" from "Republicans" and "conservatives". I don't think he's read the MSM stylebook.

Revenant said...

Those likeliest to read religious books included older and married women, lower earners, minorities, lesser educated people, Southerners, rural residents, Republicans and conservatives.

That's a pretty inclusive list of "includes". It only leaves out educated white middle and upper-income liberal men and young women from non-Southern cities -- which is a pretty small minority of the population, especially considering that whites, college educated people, and the upper income quintiles are largely Republican voters.

Unknown said...

Don't say I didn't tell you:

The AP-Ipsos poll found 22 percent of liberals and moderates said they had not read a book within the past year, compared with 34 percent of conservatives.

Among those who had read at least one book, liberals typically read nine books in the year, with half reading more than that and half less. Conservatives typically read eight, moderates five.

By slightly wider margins, Democrats tended to read more books than Republicans and independents. There were no differences by political party in the percentage of those who said they had not read at least one book.

The poll involved telephone interviews with 1,003 adults and was conducted August 6 to 8. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Unknown said...

reneviht said..."I must confess I'm not sure why reading fiction is so often considered intellectual."


KCFleming said...

Re: "It has a margin of sampling error..."

Ha! Hahahahaha!
"Sampling error" actually refers to the likelihood you will believe crap like this.

" Democrats tended to read more books"
...but, admittedly, really really bad ones that are full of misinformation about 9/11 and well all of reality. GIGO, as usual.

Trooper York said...

Trooper York of Brooklyn New York did not read "In the Midnight Hour: Walking Tours of NYC from Midnight to 4AM" by Maxine Weiss.

rhhardin said...

I used to read a lot, but who has the time? I'm now paid to think about something else.

So I have a pile of books to get at someday, chiefly translations of Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas ; some new Coleridge volumes from Princeton; a new Stanley Cavell, a found Vicki Hearne; a couple Anne Carson volumes.

Someday again, someday.

Daryl said...

1: Like everything else we want social scientists to measure, old people don't count.

I love and respect them, but they are situated so different from the rest of us, that they just skew the statistics.

They have more free time and more health problems, so of course they're going to do more reading.

2: Spot-on about which books are being read. I'm currently reading a book by Richard Posner, which counts the same as "Bare-Chested Biff the Romantic Cuddle Slave Who Does the Dishes" or "Night of the Demon Assassin Explosion Conspiracy Bloodbath" on this chart. That's ridiculous.

3: Books aren't the exclusive source for word-based content. There's newspapers, online news, and blogs.

Lawyers will often end up reading hundreds of pages of case law in a week. That kind of reading is much more engaged and active, but it doesn't count. As noted in the comments, other professionals read other professional journals.

And writing--that's even more involved than reading. If I read 300 pages and then write a 15-page opposition to a motion, that's much more intellectual than reading Harry Potter. But I guess it makes me the Republican.

Trooper York said...

Mr. Michael Vick of Atlanta,Ga. did not read "All Creatures Great and Small" by James Herriot.

duck said...

Reading is a great past time. At one point I was spending almost 175.00 a month at Barnes and Nobel. Very little of my reading is fiction. Don't know where I fit in the mold. Lower middle class, white, veteran, conservative.

I don't care which party reads the most books or what - I don't live my life thru other people's reading.

blake said...

It's uncanny! In 1992, I read nine books and voted for Clinton. In 1996 I read eight, and voted for Dole.

Trooper York said...

Ms. Paris Hilton of Pacific Palasades, Ca. did not read "Being and Nothingness" by Jean-Paul Sartre.

reader_iam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
reader_iam said...

All the snarkiness about readers and reading is a bit odd in a blog..

Oh, no, it's not--given that, to put it simplistically and briefly, the context, subtext and specific precedents here, on this blog, indicate that the point is to sever the traditionally automatic link in people's minds of reader=reader of books, for whatever (collection of) reason(s).

reader_iam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Douglas said...

I read at least, at least 100 books a year.

The thing is, I don't read "important" books.

I was MORE read than my roommate in the Marine Corps who was an artist (actually an artist, he does/did last I knew, subsidize his lifestyle as an artist) and he had a degree.

Thing I noticed between the "more read" and the "well read" community?

Us (more read) liked sci-fi, and fantasy, would flavor it with "horror"/suspense books, as well as mixing in histories, and the piece of crap "non-fiction" fictions that come out every year.

I don't know if every conservative is like I am, but. . . I would wager that I'm in the top 20 percentile of reading per individual.

reader_iam said...

Btw, I'm pretty sure that I'd qualify as "reader" in the "reader=x" equation, pretty much no matter what/which benchmark is used. In that sense, I have no ax to grind--unless I were to choose to grind all of them.

My observation of 10:18 was just that: an observation.

Anonymous said...

I did not read Remembrance of Things Past by James Joyce. The only excuse I can offer is that Remembrance of Things Past was not written by James Joyce.

Trooper York said...

Mr. reader_iam of parts unkown did not read "I,The Jury" by Mickey Spillane

Synova said...

Where in that article does it say that liberals read more?

I read voraciously, but I read to relax my mind, not work it.

I don't really see how this is particularly laudable. Fun, sure, and I'm not feeling guilty for it either, but I don't see much reason to feel superior because I read a lot.

It would make more sense to say, "A hundred books in a year? Can you imagine what you could have accomplished in the same amount of time? And didn't?"

Sort of like blogging that way. Or newsgroup chatting. Or playing EQ or WoW.

I'm Full of Soup said...

I think I am the only person who read the Michael Moore book which blamed white men for everything and an Ann Coulter book (two actually).

Like to stay open-minded and entertained. And voted for Clinton in 1992 (sat out 1996) and voted for Bush twice.

reader_iam said...

trooper york:

She did, too, though Lord knows it was sometime back in the Dark Ages.

Trooper York said...

I stand bow in homage to both your erudition and pulchritude...and apologize most humbly for the gender confusion.

Veeshir said...

I've been reading this same story my whole life.
There are always fewer people reading and yet, some people still read.
I'm actually surprised that 3 in 4 claimed they read a book. I read a lot and most of my friends are intimidated by that.
Reading a lot of books doesn't make you smart, it gives you a good vocabulary. Smart people can learn from every book, stupid people don't learn from any book.

From Inwood said...

These surveys are crap.

Unscientific sampling & silly question. Someone calls me & asks me what I read, how often. Hang up.

In the ‘70s there was a campaign for a Scotch in which celebrities were “profiled”. One of the questions was “Last Book Read”. The answer was always the PC book du jour, like Ehrlich’s population bomb stuff, The Greening of America, or Global Freezing is coming to a town near you. Right.

As others have pointed out, it seems that many books are a compilation of essays on a subject which no one reads or coffee-table books, re which the pix are looked at & it sits on the coffee table. But I say “seems” because I don’t have an unscientific “survey” to back me up. So ignore me, but do ignore that “survey”.

The most recent books I’ve read include a bio of The Babe (that being the last one if I were to answer the celeb profile Q honestly), a serious economic history, a hardbound collection of essays by a popular columnist (does that qualify as a book?), a coffee-table one about all the baseball parks that ever there was, several on history, albeit by “history popularizers”, several novels, one on the Great American Songs, and one about the infrastructure of NYC (really a page turner, no sarcasm meant).

Does that make me smarter than the average reasonable man?

There was a recent TLS article referring to unread “classics” which someone noted on a thread on this Blog. I’ve lost the site & don’t care to look it up. I’ll repeat what I said on that thread.

The author refers to Milton’s Paradise Regained as an example of unread “classics”. I did read it, admittedly while nodding. I do remember that The Third Book, lines 348 ff as sounding suspiciously like The Godfather when the Don advises Michael.

Once upon a time when I was on a committee trying to set up a decent law library for us lawyers (before the ‘net, of course), one guy insisted that we buy used books because it would look better to the clients; they’d think that we had actually opened some of the books!

So too with some friends. Some have shelves with a lot of books, almost all hardcovered & the rest “quality” paperback, some arranged by size & color and all bracketed by expensive tschochkes, but, other than the potboilers & what look like their college textbooks, no, shall we say, substantive book looks like it’s ever been touched. And some classics are untouched book club special editions. (Note to myself: get my Jane Austen book club edition of Pride & Prejudice & Sense & Sensibility & bounce it off the wall or spill soda on it! Or better still, reread both novels!)

Trooper York said...

I am currently working on my memoir.....A Remberance of Things Pabst....NYC Taverns I have Loved and Lost.....due in the spring of 2009

From Inwood said...

Trooper Y

Stop! I can't stop laughing.

I'm getting off this blog & going back to reading books so that I can refute Pat Schroeder - look, a Conservative who reads books. But then I'll get rejected 'cause I don't read "books" by the likes of Al Gore.

My books, except for the frou frou, perhaps, are all on the Liberal Index of Forbidden Books which Index is Holy Writ for the Left.

Sidebar: Serious note. I recommend "The Works, Anatomy of A City." My son-in-law, the Physics Dept Head, gave it to me for a present. I thought it was a coffee-table book. It's not. I stayed up all nite reading it.

Would scare assorted NYC paranoids who comment here. They'll think that a bad guy is gonna come up out of a manhole &, as the song goes, say strange things & do strange things to them. (Or, who knows, maybe they wish he would!)

Trooper York said...

From Inwood...I am perfectly serious....I am just stuck in the "B's" there a lot of Blarney Stones to go through...especially the one on Trinity Place I worked for in college....good times.

reader_iam said...

"Pulchitrude," no doubt, in the "earthier" sense it's apparently taken on.

Oh, trooper, I thought your entries here were funny. "She did, too" was in amused mode.

And I care no more what gender people think I am, nor would I expect people who don't already know to to be able determine it (or my location) via profile.

From Inwood said...

Trooper Y

Ah, The Blarney Stones. Stay away from a beer & a ball!

Prof A: Tip. Best hamburgers in town are served at Irish bars. Like with pizza, I don't mean a chain like Blarney Stone, but a genuine low-down neighborhood bar Pat Schroeder wouldn't wanna be seen in. Am familiar with all the ones around Inwood & Stuy Town, but not in Bklyn.

UWS guy said...

You know, Orwell wrote a very neat essay talking about what kind of people "buy" books.

great read.

Trooper York said...

From Inwood...the Blarney Stone is the height of culinary excellence...the corn beef on rye from the steam table with a side of boiled potatoes and die for...or to die from...I am never sure which...the burgers are great at Hanley's at Court and 4th Place....get it with mozzarella and sautéed onions and mushrooms...the Cherry Tree is also pretty cool on 4th and Bergen...with thin crust pizza served without the pretension that you get at Grimaldi’s…. closer to the prof’s digs is the Waterfront Ale house on Atlantic which is very good...and they have about 100 beers to choose form....say hello to Dimitri the Bartender and catch his band that usually plays there on Saturdays…featuring Poppa Chubby.

From Inwood said...

Trooper York

You say

"the Blarney Stone... corn beef on rye from the steam table with a side of boiled potatoes and die for...or to die from...I am never sure which...”

Just like Mother used to make. Damn.

In case you're no longer on this thread, I hikacked another thread, but let me note on books, A. E. Houseman

“And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s way to man.”

Now if some one other than an educated Upper-class British twit had written that, what opprobrium the self-styled elites would've heaped upon him. Except if 'twere Brendan Behan or Eugene O'Neill, who fit their Irish stereotype. Maybe Pete Hamill.

BTW, went to "Moon For The Misbegotten" on Bway a few seasons back & the typical NYC audience was restless; cell phones ringing, guy two seats over snoring. They went 'cause it was The Thing To Do.

OK, even tho my wife is related to him (distantly), he needs an editor.

Trooper York said...

Ah, so true, so true...but to paraphrase Sam Elliott...beef it's what's for dinner.

Anonymous said...

To Anthony all the way up top, you're wrong. No, characters are not just words on the page. They're symbols that represent an image of something the author has thought of, which in turn comes from something they've seen in real life. ALL Fiction has a basis in real-life experience. No one can completely make things up from nil. Stop thinking it's just words on the page, and maybe you'll see what the "character is feeling"