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Why Don’t You Read?

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

If you are a reader, sometimes it might feel like you are the only one. This question might come to mind when you talk to family, friends or acquaintances. It may feel like fewer people read all the time. I don’t mean, “Stare at short content free articles on the phone.” That is passing time. I mean really read.

Do you even read bruh?

This blog has spoken many times about the utility of reading, and I am not going to try to defend it again today. Instead, I want to talk about what we can all do to help reading stay alive, because the benefits reading conveys are more necessary than ever.

Why are people reading less?

1) People are busy. The fast pace of the modern world throws the demands of work, family, and social obligations at us in more ways than ever and many people feel they simply don’t have time to read.

2) Reading has competition unlike ever before in history. Specifically, it must contend with the rise of digital media. In our constantly connected world, it’s easy to get your knowledge, news and entertainment from sources other than books.

3) Free content makes books look like a losing proposition. Books can be expensive, especially if you’re buying them new. Used books are often cheaper but many people simply don’t have the time to hunt for them, don’t go to used book stores at all or don't like the risk of buying them online.

4) It’s just not popular to read. As fewer people read, it becomes less socially acceptable to do so. This can create a cycle that leads to even fewer people reading, reinforcing the stereotypes.

I don’t know which of these is the leading factor, or if all of them work together to create the problem. But how big of a problem is it?

In 2023 according to the Pew Research Center, about 64% of American adults say they have read a book in the past 12 months. (This is not related to finishing the book only at least starting one, and it did not need to be a new book.) This is a similar to 2022 data, and is consistent with the findings from 2020. Not bad. It’s a majority, and not slipping terribly.

But this can be countered with the National Endowment for the Arts, which released a report in 2015 that showed literary reading among Americans had declined significantly over the previous 20 years. In 1992, 56% of Americans had read at least one work of literature in the previous year. By 2014, that number had fallen to 46%. The data sets do not define what a work of literature means, or how it relates to books in general. Maybe people are just losing interest in Shakespeare? (Unimaginable!)

What other data do we have? The NEA report found that literary reading was more common among the elderly. In 2014, 53% of adults age 65 and older reported reading compared with just 36% of adults ages 18-24. Perhaps this is not too surprising as this age group may be more reticent to adopt alternate forms of entertainment.

The American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that, on average, Americans age 15 and older spent about 7 minutes per day reading in 2017. This was down from 9 minutes in 2014. What they are reading was not made clear.

Reading patterns of Americans

There is more good news though. According to Gallop, the decline in book reading is mostly a function of how many books readers are reading, as opposed to fewer Americans reading any books. The 17% of U.S. adults who say they did not read any books in the past year is similar to the 16% to 18% measured in 2002 to 2016 surveys, though it is higher than in the 1999 to 2001 polls. This lends some credence to the statement that the reason people are not reading is due to imitations in time, perhaps not a decline in desire.

Where does this leave us? We have established broadly that there is a problem: A decrease in reading. We all agree here it is a problem because depriving ourselves of reading leads to loss of the benefits of reading and comes with the detriments of decreased capacity for rationale argument, among others previously mentioned on this blog. What do we do about it?

I have wondered if perhaps the reason for reduced reading is a reduction in face time with other people. Introverts among us will shrug their shoulders heartily and say, “Who cares?” In many ways I am among you. But much of the world wants to do a thing with friends and/or be seen doing that thing. Reading is by its nature a fairly solitary act.

Enter options:

- Join or start a reading / book club. This doesn’t need to be a massive undertaking. This can be 3-5 people who select a book with common interest, that is not a bestseller or recently released thus ensuring it is cheaper to buy and reading it together at an agreed on an agreed cadence. You don’t need to be aggressive with the speed. Read a book over a few months. Talk about it. Blog about it. I am willing to bet if a group contacted the author, they would be willing to talk to you about it too! How much fun would that be? Authors are not generally as famous or well off as people might think. The desire to talk about their books will be high.

- Do the same on BookTube. There are streams of people who read and discuss books online as well. Start a channel of your own. Invite people there to form groups and read. Invite friends and family to join you as you listen to a particular channel or an author. Bring the experience outside of the channel to engage others in reading.

- Talk to your friends about the book you just read. Things are cool when we say they are. If you are excited about a book, admit you are. Ask them to take a look at it. A book club of two people is still fun and a person to talk to about the chapters as they unfold.

- Pick a new skill to learn with your partner. Decide on a nonfiction piece you will work through together and talk about the ramifications of the book. How will you integrate the new knowledge into your life?

- Next time a person comments on something you are better at, mention books or reading you might have undertaken to get better at it. Give credit to the authors.

All of these are ways in which to take your reading external to yourself and show others how much benefit can be derived from reading.

If all of these options sound terrible then at the least, continue to go read. Check books out from your library, download them from your selected app, or buy them from your local bookstore.

The future of books is in your hands.

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Anna Varlese
Anna Varlese
19 jul 2023
Obtuvo 5 de 5 estrellas.

Awesome post! Some of my favorite books were from book clubs.

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