Saturday, July 10, 2004



The National Endowment for the Arts just released a report documenting a precipitous drop in the number of adults in the United States who read literature, with the steepest decline occurring among young adults, those aged 18 to 34. The full report, 60 pages in PDF format, is available here.

As I see it, there are at least a couple of possible explanations. Perhaps Americans are at last taking to heart Schopenhauer's strictures against reading (tr. T. Bailey Saunders):
Reading is thinking with some one else's head instead of one's own. To think with one's own head is always to aim at developing a coherent whole -- a system, even though it be not a strictly complete one; and nothing hinders this so much as too strong a current of others' thoughts, as comes of continual reading.
In other words, Americans might be reading less because they are thinking more.

Or, perhaps Americans are becoming like the Smallweeds in chapter XXI of Dickens' Bleak House:
"Don't you read, or get read to?"

The old man shakes his head with sharp sly triumph. "No, no. We have never been readers in our family. It don't pay. Stuff. Idleness. Folly. No, no!"
Maybe Americans have realized that reading just doesn't pay.

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