What I don't see, oddly, is talk about getting adults to read. Yet here may be where the big problem lies. A few days ago, Andrew Sullivan linked to some statistics on American reading habits:
1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.It's not as if they don't have the time. As I noted in my review of Al Gore's The Assault on Reason, the average American spends four and a half hours a day watching TV. I'm willing to bet that most of it is dominated by comedy-dramas that are mainly about keeping viewer's eyes glued to the screen with sensational bits of sex and violence. Even shows that purport to discuss serious issues are almost always laughable shouting matches with little space for fact-checking and careful argumentation. I cannot conceive of granting, even for the sake of argument, that there is more than an hour and a half of worthwhile TV per day across all channels. If Americans cut back to that hour and a half, they would have three extra hours per day for doing things like reading. It would be no difficulty to read a book a week with such time. Why isn't this happening?
42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
Educators may be on to something when they suggest we need to get them reading young, but they think too young. The attempts to get kids to read typically revolve around getting kids in the 4th-8th-ish grade range to read "YA" novels specifically aimed at them. They will outgrow those books. Such attempts are fine for building up basic literacy, but it won't create a lifetime of reading. What we need to do is encourage high schoolers to read non-fiction aimed at adults, to show them what its like to educate themselves about worthwhile topics.
At the college level, might it help if professors teaching 100-level courses were encouraged to assign the sort of books that a layperson might pick up to learn about a topic? My experience with college reading lists is that even books published in a non-textbooky format are pretty academic and boring.
Another thought: try to expose students to publications that review non-fiction books, make it more likely that when they pick up a book it will be something they knew in advance will be worthwhile.
I'd love to see reader thoughts in the comments. These suggestions are coming off the top of my head, spurred more by a conviction we need to do something than a clear idea of how to do it. The ignorance and irrationality of the American public can be rather scary at times, and getting people to educate themselves about the world seems the best way to counteract it.
Technoarti tags: books, reading, nonfiction, ignorance