According to the American Bookseller’s Association and the Associated Press, one in four Americans surveyed had not read a book in the previous year. I have not seen comparisons for Australia, so I wonder if the statistics would be similar. In the American survey, more than half of those who had read a book had read more than six books and a quarter of the readers had read more than fifteen books. The Midwest had the highest percentage of readers, but southern readers read the highest per capita number of books with 31% reading more than fifteen books.
Spokesperson for the survey, Michael Gross of Ipsos Public Affairs, claimed to be surprised that in a country that likes to think of itself as “intelligent and well-read”, a quarter of those surveyed did not read books. He stressed that no conclusions could be drawn about American’s reading habits as the survey asked specifically about books.
At an anecdotal level, when I taught a media and popular culture class in Minnesota, bastion of the apparently well-read Midwest, in early 2000, only a handful of a class of 150 put their hands up to say that they regularly read a newspaper or a magazine. A majority of the class did not listen to radio news or watch network news on television. And this was in a class that was full of journalism majors. Is this evidence of the triumph of the web, or can we in fact draw tentative conclusions about the reading habits of Americans?
Some people argue that those people not reading books are turning instead to the internet. I have not seen statistics for this, but I suspect that if people are using the internet, it is largely not for reading purposes. They definitely are not reading blogs. Again, in the United States, only 39 per cent of internet users (about 57 million) read blogs.
I was encouraged to find an argument in support of reading and blogging. Genevieve Tucker writes for The Australian that “readers of books who also enjoy reading blogs are conscious that they are drawn to the most highly powered technology in their homes and offices to talk about the simplest cultural technology there is, one that can be picked up, kept for many years on a shelf, borrowed and lent and returned to at will without needing to be refreshed or substantially remodelled. It is this poignant attachment to old technology, together with a well-balanced sense of the rich possibilities offered by new media, that is probably closest to the heart of blogging about books and writing.”
I certainly have an attachment to the grand old technology of the book. I read at least one book a week, more if I can squeeze it in. Then there are the newspapers and magazines that loiter in piles around the house. And I love the way that you can access fresh writing using the internet. Now if I can just manage not to let blogging get in the way of writing my book, then I will feel that I have the right balance between old and new technologies.