Here’s the kind of report guaranteed to make a curmudgeon’s head explode: The National Endowment for the Arts has discovered that on average, Americans ages 15 to 24 spend almost two hours a day watching TV, and only seven minutes of their daily leisure time on reading.
Seven minutes? That much? I’m trying to think of the last time I saw someone 15 to 24 reading a book or a newspaper. Maybe they only do it one minute at a time, at different times of the day, so it’s hard to catch them at it.
The predictable reaction, of course, is to lament the decline of literacy and prophesy doom for America. But really, does it matter? If so few young people are reading these days, maybe it’s because it doesn’t matter. People have to eat to survive, and endlessly fiddle with their iPods, but they don’t have to read. So why should they bother? Presumably, there will always be a small subset of humanity capable of reading something to them, should the need arise. I hereby offer my services — as long as the money is right and I still have my health.
Another interesting report was one the Associated Press did in August, which found that the typical American read only four books last year, and one in four adults read no books at all. Ever.
Amusingly, among “avid” readers surveyed by the AP, the typical woman read nine books in a year, compared with only five for men. I don’t know what I’d call someone who read a book every six to 10 weeks, but “avid” seems a slight exaggeration.
One other reading statistic: Men account for only 20 percent of the fiction market in the U.S., Britain and Canada. Some researchers speculate the women’s mirror neurons are somehow more sensitive, which enables them to better empathize with fictional characters. Maybe. But I’ll lay odds that Oprah has more to do with it. And I suspect she’s getting more people to buy books than actually read them.