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Return of the Reader

For the first time in more than 25 years, American adults are reading more literature, according to a new study by the National Endowment for the Arts. Reading on the Rise documents a definitive increase in rates and numbers of American adults who read literature, with the biggest increases among young adults, ages 18-24. This new growth reverses two decades of downward trends cited previously in NEA reports such as Reading at Risk and To Read or Not To Read.

The quote comes for the News Room of the National Endowment of the Arts, an article titled “More American Adults Read Literature According to New NEA Study.” The full text is available here. The site also offers the book itself, NEA’s study results, either for ordering or download. Some interesting highlights:

  • The number of readers declined for a while since 1982 when NEA began its surveys, but an upward trend is developing. Adult readers have increased by 16.6 million in the 1982-2008 period. In 1982, readers were 95.6 million and in 2008 they numbered 112.8 million.
  • On the negative side: in 1982 nearly 57 percent of adults were readers. In 2008 50 percent. But the adult population has increased, hence the totals have increased. This explains (see last post) why spending on books is growing at a lower rate than GDP.
  • America splits in twain between readers and non-readers. Slightly more than half of all adults read literature (113 million) and books of all kinds (119 million).
  • The young are leading the growth in reading! Good news for publishers. Those aged 18-24 years showed the biggest increase in literature readers since 2002.
  • Fiction (novels, short stories) lead the growth. Dwarf Planet has earthquakes of delight at the news.

Very interesting patterns. They invite all sorts of speculations. Patterns to ponder to explain “the return of the reader”: programmed TV shows are declining in favor of “reality TV.” The non-readers love those. Blockbuster movies are special effects spectacles. Maybe people long once more to read about people rather than watch explosions and morphing monsters. And for staff of Dwarf Planet Press, there is the unspeakable collapse, again, of the Detroit Lions.


One Response

  1. The Detroit Lions and literature? I believe Tolstoy said it best in Anna Kafumblealot:

    Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way; but the Detroit Lions are really a mess.

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