Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Reading Crisis?

This article was in the Dallas Morning News. I don’t know which day or what page, as it was cut out and brought to work, where I got my hands on it. Read it and tell me what you think?

Is reading really making a comeback in the U.S.?

And are we sure it was in a crisis to begin with? Wonders David Ulin

Is reading making a comeback in the United States? That’s the finding of “Reading on the Rise,” a study released this month by the National Endowment for the Arts concluding that literary reading among adult Americans has gone up 3.5 percent over the last six years.

The endowment considers this significant because its last reading survey, in 2002, reported such a precipitous drop in literary reading that it was titled “Reading at Risk.” The 2002 study showed that in the 10-year period beginning in 1992, adult readers fell from 54.0 percent of the population to 46.7 percent.

So does the new report mean we’ve turned a cultural corner? The key phrase in the report is “literary reading,” which the endowment defines as “novels and short stories, plays or poems.” As in previous years, nonfiction was left out of the loop. Such a definition is unconscious of its own elitism, the idea that literary reading is different from (read: better than) any other kind.

In a recent essay in The Nation, William Deresiewicz argued that the NEA has played into the tendency of so-called literary mandarins – the critics and scholars – to see themselves as “the Last of the Readers,” a beleaguered cultural elite. His response to the 2002 survey’s finding that “only” 96 million American adults engaged in literary reading? “Ninety-six million American adults engage in literary reading!”

In other words, there’s a whole lotta reading going on. I agree with Deresiewicz; 96 million is a lot of readers, a veritable army of the written word.

Not surprisingly, reading rates go up according to level of education: 68.1 percent of college graduates identify as readers, compared with 39.1 percent of high school graduates and 18.5 percent of those who never went to high school. And consider ethnicity – 55.7 percent of whites, 42.6 percent of blacks and 31.9 percent of Hispanics meet the NEA’s “literary reader” criteria.

This is important because “Reading on the Rise” correlates its findings to a broader context, framing reading in terms of moral value. “Reading is an important indicator of various positive individual and social behavior patterns,” the report informs us, adding that “previous NEA research has shown that literary readers attend arts and sports events, play sports, do outdoor activities, exercise and volunteer at higher rates than nonreaders.”

Setting aside the question of whether reading is, or even should be, good for you, these sorts of comparisons suggest a disturbing subtext, in which a certain kind of reader makes a better grade of citizen – literary eugenics, in other words.

David Ulin is book editor of the Los Angeles Times

Me:
Literary reading? Doesn’t reading non-fiction such as biographies, current events, politics and the such make a person a more rounded individual? I mean, as a writer of fiction, I’m happy to see that the reading of fiction is up, but I have to wonder how the numbers would be changed if non-fiction were to be included. Would the conclusion that reading was in a crisis be the same if non-fiction were added to the mix? I don’t think so. What about you?

7 comments:

Toni Anderson said...

Lordy, I read so much non-fiction. Usually for research but what difference does that make. I read it :) Jeez I read anything lol.

Yep--terrible to discriminate against non fiction. Stupid really. Great that reading is up :)

bebo said...

I'm with Toni, I read anything I can get my hands on. Who is he (or they) to not count reading non-fiction? What about that nice little article? Wasn't that non-fiction? Or did he just make it up?

Personally I've recently become fascinated by ingredient lists...

Susan said...

How can non-fiction not counted? I have read and enjoyed non-fiction just about as long as I've read fiction.

Brandy said...

I never fully believed reading was down. And to not count non-fiction is a huge error in my opinion. But, like Toni and Bebo wrote, I read EVERYTHING. *G*

JJ said...

Personally, I am shocked that they would not consider non-fiction and educational reading held in higher standards than fiction alone. Don't get me wrong, I love fiction and the escape it provides. But, to base America's reading stats on on catagory only seems a bit off. I say reading is reading... regardless if it is a novel, short story, play, fiction or non, or even an ingredient list! Should we not simply be celebrating the fact that we have millions upon millions of people who... CAN READ? :-) Power to the Readers... and the writers too of course! haha

catslady said...

I too think there shouldn't be a difference. No matter what you read, you're always learning something.

glenice said...

so basically according to this...

we are reading crap only?? And you know me! I love my crap :)
but we are all reading Harry Potter and such...

I agree, I think Literary Reading (fiction only) is very misleading. Literary works should include all reading material...