Opinion

Are we reading less?

A recent report offers the alarming news that one-quarter of all American adults read no books last year, not one. We hold out hope, however, that they at least read something.

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that the typical person claimed to have read four books in the past year -- half read more and half read fewer. Excluding the one in four who didn't read any, the median number of books read was nine for women and four for men.

Of course, while those who read no books represented one extreme, the poll also found people who read 70 or 80 books during the past year. The poll also found that those with college degrees read the most, and people ages 50 and up read more than those who are younger.

People from the South read a bit more than those from other regions, mostly religious books and romance novels. Democrats and liberals typically read slightly more books than Republicans and conservatives.

More women than men read books from every category except for history and biography. Pollsters said that helps bolster the notion that men tend to prefer nonfiction.

As for those who read little or nothing, analysts blame competition from the Internet and other media, and the unsteady economy. That could mean that many people simply watch TV instead of reading.

But that view might be somewhat unfair. Many people read reams of newspapers, magazines and other periodicals, but not books. Many read material on the Internet. And, in our view, reading just about anything can provide mental stimulation, even if it's the back of a cereal box.

Some long magazine articles are nearly the equivalent of a book. And even many shorter articles are more intellectually challenging than the average page-turning paperback.

Analysts don't mention fatigue as a reason for reading less. How many of us have good intentions of reading a chapter or two of a book right before we go to sleep only to find ourselves in dreamland after just a few paragraphs?

We suspect that in the increasingly complex world of technology, people are accessing the written word from many sources other than from between the covers of books. But as long as they are reading, absorbing information, finding enjoyment and entertainment, and exercising gray matter while they read, the source should be immaterial.

However -- and this is a big caveat -- books are important. Nothing can quite replicate the experience of disappearing into a good book.

Sorry to say, a quarter of the adult American public is missing something.

IN SUMMARY

Recent survey indicates that at least a fourth of all U.S. adults read no books this year.

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