Where have all the readers gone?

One out of four people didn’t read a book last year?

I wasn’t going to write about this, simply because Tim from A Progressive on the Prairie summed his thoughts – and mine – really well:

Regardless of which survey you look at, my reading habits and consumption once more mean I am vastly outnumbered. Again, though, it’s a minority of which I’m proud. And for those who wonder how I manage to read as many books as I do: There is something called an “off” button on that mind-numbing device known as a television and the limited quality in that wasteland is easily perused in just a couple weekend hours with a recording device and fast forward button.

Just think of the wonderful impact on our youth and society if even half the hours “reality TV” is on in American households were devoted to reading.

My points exactly. Case closed.

But wait. One out of four? Shouldn’t I say something? Isn’t this what I’m all about? Didn’t I join a board and write columns and work by example to help, in whatever small way, to shrink that number?

I didn’t. But that number keep popping up. And the article kept sneaking into my vision. The full results strengthened my disbelief. Friends e-mailed me to tell me the news. One out of four. Really? One out of four?

And yet, here I am day later, still finding myself surprised when I know I shouldn’t be.

Let’s face it. In today’s society, reading is not given the attention it once was. Things are easier; ideas transferred more quickly and stories fleshed out more visually. Imagination has taken a different form, and reading seems, to some, like an ancient time-wasting activity, like standing up to change the channel on the television without a remote or washing clothes by washboard.

And yet, I find that people are truly becoming less and less creative. Sure, the ideas that truly creative people have are phenomenal, but it seems like the line between ordinary and extraordinary is thickening, as if the general public can’t be bothered with taking the time to create something original, be it an idea or an art or a business plan.

With the onset of easy entertainment has come the onset of easy thinking. I see it everywhere I go – I’ve talked to people that say they haven’t read a book in years. In years! How does that happen? How do these people not accidentally read a book? It’s disheartening, to say the least. And I find that those who don’t read books tend to stick to clichés. They tend to follow the trends, to the tee, even if those trends happen to be proven negative. It’s as if their imagination has withered away, placated by pre-packaged entertainment and propped up by paint-by-numbers ideas.

It’s not that people don’t have time to read. A person has time to do whatever they want to do. It’s a matter of making time to read. It’s a matter of lining up your priorities and creating space in a busy life to read. With the number of time-saving devices and the onset of faster information, shouldn’t we have more time to do the things we want?

Reading is a special act. The idea of reading itself is one of patience, of slowing down and enjoying, word for word, a fully fleshed out idea. It’s taking in every detail of a story, non-colorized and edited, from the most basic thoughts to the grandest theme. It encompasses several great virtues, it leads to monumentally creative thinking, and it strengthens the written word.

There are still readers out there. Three in four, apparently. And those who are writing great works of literature don’t have to write in vain. We’re still reading it.

But who am I kidding? It doesn’t have to be a great work of literature. I try not to be critical of any work of literature, non-fiction, poetry, any form the written word takes. I appreciate the buzz that the Harry Potter books, or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code make. I welcome the potboiler fiction that flies off of the shelf. People are reading, and in my mind, that means people are learning. They are bettering themselves. They are enjoying lives outside of their own.

Reading doesn’t have to be in paper form. Reading can come from a magazine. Reading can come from online. From the newspaper. From whatever form it happens to take.

But, in my mind, there’s nothing more fulfilling than carrying a solid book around, a block of paper, a ream of bleached wood pulp covered in black marks, and casually opening it to renew your relationships with a set of characters that could never possibly occur in real life.

So when I read that 1 out of 4 people aren’t reading, I don’t begrudge them their choice.

I do, however, wonder if they even know what they’re missing.

This was lovingly handwritten on August 25th, 2007