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Why Aren’t You Reading?

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A new poll from the Associated Press-Ipsos reveals that America isn’t reading. One in four adults didn’t read a book last year. One in four. I find that amazing as well as depressing. For those who did read – women and older people – it was mostly bestselling fiction, mainly romance in the southern regions, and religious material. Why aren’t we reading more?

I know a lot of people who don’t read at all. When I talk about what I’ve just finished reading or what I’m about to start reading I get blank stares. I’m looked at as if I’ve got giant lobsters crawling out of my ears and at any moment they might attack. Is it really that strange to be a bookworm in American culture?

The excuse I hear the most is "I don’t have time." For some people I believe this is true. My parents are both avid readers but between full time jobs, everyday living, and a brand new baby in the house, life is full. It’s a choice between a cat nap or a book. But at the end of the day it is just that, a choice to do something other than read.

I also hear "I don’t like to read." This answer just boggles my mind. You don’t like to read? How could anyone not enjoy a good book? People are constantly talking about how they need a break from work and the hassle of everyday living. They need a vacation. A good book is just that — an escape, a vacation, an adventure.

Open a book and the world opens, expands, and engulfs you. You go places and meet people you might otherwise never get a chance to come into contact with. Any genre can do this for you. I love travel essays for that very reason. I doubt I will ever see the Antarctic with my own eyes but I can read about it and experience it through someone else’s. Then you have the biographies that lay before you lives that have been lived to the fullest extent, for good or for bad, and you get a slice of time that belongs to no one else. Histories that as you turn pages jump to life. Books on science and political issues that expand your limited world view; all of that in just non-fiction.

Whole worlds await discovery in the fiction section, not just fantasy and science fiction but in the thrillers that take you to cities you have never seen and the hometown romances that show you a slice of life you will never experience. Each author presents things a little differently and gives the reader more to explore and become a part of.

A good book will change you – I truly believe this – and at the end of the day no one has a good excuse for why they aren’t reading more.

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About Katie T. Buglet

  • This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net , which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States, and to Boston.com. Nice work!

  • I’m a librarian, and yet for a long time, I wasn’t reading books. I have managed to fill my time with reading many blogs, emails, and forums. By the time I’m through with them, it’s hard to find the concentration and block of time to read a book. I tried to change my reading style so that I wouldn’t need at least four hours free in order to read an average fiction book cover to cover, but it’s hard for me to put something down once I’ve started, and I’m getting too old to stay up reading until dawn and then go to work.

    Basically, what it comes down to is that I’ve allowed too many things to replace my reading time. If I — a librarian and formerly voracious reader — have done this, imagine how hard it would be for a non-reader to pick up a book in the midst of all these distractions and time-sucks.

  • Anna’s right, and I expect it’s very hard to pick up the habit of reading books if you didn’t develop a love for it – or at least a like for it – as a child.

    As far as adults go, we gotta give some props to Oprah for helping to make reading cool.

  • Natalie, thank you! that’s great 🙂

    Anna, making the time to read is hard. I know it is. I get caught up in the blogs and sometimes after staring at a computer screen all day I don’t want to stare at a book. But during lunch and my breaks I read. I know this is not average behavior for most people. And I can understand how it would be hard for a non-reader to even get started… I just could not imagine a life without books so it’s hard for me to understand how someone could not have them in their own life.

    Jon, your right that it’s hard to pick up reading if you didn’t start when you were a kid… and way to go Oprah except the books she picks most of the time are really sad 🙁 She needs to pick more uplifting books.

  • Excellent article…

    I’m a graduate student majoring in literature and, when I tell people what I’m going to school for, they invariably ask me “why?”. My answer is always “because I love books,” which never seems to satisfy their bewilderment.

    I think that many people, those who have either not read a book in a while or those who haven’t read anything of substance at all, pereceive reading a book as daunting. Thus, they don’t even begin. If more people gave reading a chance, even by reading a few pages at a time, I believe more people would turn to reading as a rewarding activity.


  • Donald, thanks! 🙂 I’m glad you liked it. I think you are right to say that people might find starting a novel daunting. And maybe reading isn’t for everyone, there are plenty of things I’ve never tried that other people rave about, I just wish more people would give it a chance.

    Then I would have more people to talk books with. 🙂

  • I find it absolutely astounding that three out of four adults read books over the past year. That figure seems way too high.

  • Rodney, for the people that did read it was something like only three or four books over the whole year. Follow the link and it gives you the entire poll, it has come interesting figures about reading the reading habits of American adults

  • Nancy

    Great article on a sore subject I fulminate on myself about once a week. US functional illiteracy is almost as much of a scandal as our politics. What kills me is that people can graduate from high school without being able to read at what USED to be an upper elementary level. Our high school kids have no clue who Little Nell or Samuel Pickwick are. They never heard of Jim Corbett, or read Kipling, let alone foreign literature like Genji or All Men Are Brothers. The only reason they’ve heard at all of Jane Austin is because someone made movies out of a few of her books; otherwise she’d be just as obscure as Addison & Steele. You can forget about commentaries or non-fiction totally. Morrison on the World of the Shining Prince? Hah? Wha-? What prince? You mean the singer?

    It’s enough to make you want to disappear into the Library of Congress & never come out. (Now THERE is a bookworm’s fantasy!)

    Take heart, tho: some of us (granted, not too many) do make up for the rest: I read 2-5 books a week, NOT fiction or religious; in fact, generally non-fiction histories or bios. At home, I recently emptied out a room & had wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling adjustable bookshelves put in to hold my own personal cache, mostly of paperbacks, but few of them popular fiction; most of them classics like Dickens, Austin, Asimov, Clarke, Trollope or a slew of others. Non-fiction ranges from true crime to sociology (such as The Proper Bostonians, or The Weaker Vessel) to bios & history (lots of Frasier) & science, including an unlikely but hysterically funny analysis covering almost every scientific field called The Science of Jurassic Park, which deconstructs the JP movies in a way that will leave most literate people in stitches. It did me. Ditto such pot-boilers as The Hot Zone, or for thrillers, the collected works of Jim Corbett. You can’t beat man-eating leopards for intensity of fear, especially alone at night in a dark house with several cats!

    You’re right, tho: most unregenerate readers are older women. Everyone I know who is a compulsive reader is over 35 & female. You’re also right that it needs to start in the cradle. My dad read to me from the day I came home from the hospital. So I’m a book addict. My younger sister he didn’t have time to do that for. I speculate that she turned out functionally illiterate partially because of the “new” experimental reading baloney they foisted on her age cohort in the schools, and that she wasn’t read to. Like Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird, I don’t remember not being able to read, nor do my bookworm friends. I can’t imagine not being able to read – or not wanting to. I’d rather read than eat, or watch a movie, or go to the theatre. Even blogging is better because it involves a lot of reading.

    Modern technology is turning us into a world of dummies who have to be hand-fed everything verbally, with the attention span of gnats.

  • I’m an avid reader and was once a teacher. It is essential to teach children, by example, that reading is wonderful. Teachers know the key to an advanced education is reading ability.

    Great article!

  • Nancy

    IMO, once you learn to read, you have learned to help yourself to all kinds of information & education. You don’t have to have anything spoon-fed to you by anybody else, & you can go as fast or as slow (or repeat: a lot of my books I re-read frequently) as you want, not at someone else’s pace. And I find that the books are ususally far more satisfying than the movies, because your own imagination & mind are far richer than any movie can be, normally. There are a few movies I’ll except from that (Memoirs of a Geisha, for example, & Out Of Africa), but the generality is the books are far better. I pity those who can read but don’t bother. They strike me as imaginationally bankrupt & helpless to amuse themselves indefinitely.

  • David Olson

    Take this article with a bit of wisdom, a bit of perspective. I recall in High School that my mother thought I read too much and that I should take more part in extra-curricular activities. Chess club, Debate club, Theatre club, etc. would have been good. There is more to life than a book and we need to appreciate the people who DO things. As for imagining life without reading; well, in an earlier age our ancesters developed very good memories and were good conversationalists and storytellers.

  • Modern technology is turning us into a world of dummies who have to be hand-fed everything verbally, with the attention span of gnats.

    very true. i mean, what david (#12) above says is true also, but so many people spend so much time on their computers/cells phones these days that a huge amount if information/cultural knowledge is just being ignored.

  • Nancy

    The last comment brings up an interesting factoid: someone recently noticed that games, songs, & rhymes that kids used to “pass on” in school or at play are no longer being passed on, & hence, being lost, some of them dating back into indefinable past centuries, such as London Bridge or Ring Around the Rosie. Apparently a lot of modern US kids never heard it & don’t know it. Ditto a lot of other stuff like that. Hopscotch, for example. Just … disappeared from the kid culture.

    Another interesting kid culture aside observation: around these parts, anything featuring Spongebob Squarepants has been banned from kids bringing them/it/him to school. I’ve seen the show; aside from an inherent stupidity that is actually aimed at adults (the irony is lost on kids) I don’t see what’s in it to ban. Anybody want to take a guess?

  • Why aren’t I busy reading? Why, because I’m busy writing!

  • Josef Assad,

    To be a good writer you have to read.

    I’m busy writing as well; I’m not saying that reading is more important than other things. (writing, family time, work, life in general. I still maintain that reading should be a part of life.) But honestly… what good author of any kind doesn’t read? You have to love it. Not just books but the written word and most writers I know do love to read.

  • Josef:

    I visited your site.

    You haven’t been busy writing.

    I think you may have seen Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and somehow convinced yourself you were ready to write.

    You were wrong.

    Read a few books, possibly starting with basic grammar texts.

  • Sean Mahoney

    Great article, Katie. I think many people are doing a fair share of their reading online at sites like this one and the old habit of carrying a book around has fallen to the wayside, unfortunately. I personally have been trying to get back in the habit. Once upon a time I used to read a book a week! Now I’m lucky if I read six a year.