Wednesday, August 04, 2010

One In Four Didn't Read A Single Book

I've regularly heard the following fact bandied around -- that 25% (or 1 in 4) people in the United States didn't read a single book last year.

Not. One. Single. Book.

I know I don't read as much as others, am a slow reader and constantly have a "to read" pile much longer than my arm, but this statistic boggles my mind.

I suppose it might be like walking into your average "all you can eat buffett" and loudly declaring that the portion of meat you're supposed to consume at a meal should be no larger than your palm or a deck of cards. To the audience hearing that statement, it seems obsurd -- so very very unlikely. (In a case like that, you might actually incite a fist fight)

But then again, that's the world I come from -- I come from a world in which reading books is the norm, so of course it'll boggle my mind.

The other day a friend of mine said that he was currently reading a book on budgeting and that he hadn't picked up a single book since high school. It simply stunned me. He is a smart guy, his wife is a voracious reader and his kids are both into books. He simply has had no interest. It makes me wonder if there's something within our school systems that end up putting people OFF books. I remember not so long ago returning to read books I was supposed to read in high school but never did because, well, because they didn't interest me (and yes, I've always been into books, so it wasn't that I didn't like reading) -- But when, as an adult, I picked up these books and read them I thought: "Wow, this is so good. Now I know why this book is being studied." But then I also thought:  "Wow, this would have bored me to death if I read it when I was 14. I'm so glad I read it at 21, or 31, or, sigh, 41."

Josh Christie recently posted a neat list on his blog that might help people not be a statistic. Entitled, Small Books with a Big Punch, he put together a list of books less than 200 pages.

It made me wonder what shorter books I might recommend to help the cause. I'm still noodling on it. I'm sure I've read plenty of shorter books that I loved, but I'm drawing a complete blank right now, other than Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town which I loved and which is about 150 pages. (Of course, that was something that was forced upon me to read when I was in University - thought I did quote love his writing and humour). Stephen King's Carrie comes in at a low page count (the collector's edition trade paperback I have is 152 pages, while the mass market version is 245)

Or, perhaps, if I could suggest just a SINGLE book to someone to read so they fall out of that statistical 25%, what would it be? (The answer, of course, would vary depending on their tastes, preferences, etc)

What shorter books would YOU recommend?  Or, failing that, what SINGLE BOOK have you read that would make your list?


Lorina and Gary Stephens said...

While I don't, at the moment, have a short book to recommend, I do have an anecdote.
At a recent book signing I was stunned when a woman fingered my books, and then said, "I don't read books," and then went on to tell me she's a secondary school teacher!
How can you teach kids if you aren't engaged yourself?

Katherine said...

I used to teach high school English (presently in the corporate world).

I absolutely believe that the school environment turns people off books. We still mostly take a "cod liver oil" approach to English classes: "Read this. It's good for you. It's by a Great Author." We don't worry about whether or not it will engage the entire class (or even some of the class), except to the extent that it will make getting through the unit harder if there's a revolt and they all refuse to read the thing.

Books become a thing to be endured, not enjoyed. I've got an English Lit. degree, but I got through it largely by 1) deciding I would try to get into whatever was thrown at me (and, as it turns out, I happen to like lots of kinds of books) and 2) treating each essay like a strategy game. Not everyone is able to do that, and if they can they don't necessarily want to.

I also completely believe the comment about the woman who said she didn't read books and then added she was a secondary school teacher. I was chastised as a student teacher for reading my favourite authors instead of "what the kids were reading." Heaven forbid I be the one to tell them about Camus or Beckett, never mind Woolf or (gasp!) any of the major science fiction writers.

I'm not sure length is the hurdle. Look at the surprise bestsellers of the last few years: Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code, Twilight, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. They're all long, and they're all series, even. Two of them are YA series that crossed over to the adult markets. Otherwise, all you can say is that they're a mix of thrillers and fantasies.

Which are only two of the genres you rarely find on the high school curriculum.