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One in four read no books last year

If it's news, but not politics, then it goes here.

Postby rrnate » Wed Aug 22, 2007 2:55 pm

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:
rrnate wrote:However, I did not take part in this poll, which I'd be willing to bet was conducted predominently on landline telephone's, thereby missing the valuable "only has a cell phone" demographic.

What possible reason do you have for thinking someone who only has a cellphone is more likely to have read books than someone with a landline? Many of the folks I've known who don't have landlines are some of the least likely suspects when it comes to being well-read, but I haven't done a formal survey.

My biggest problem with this survey: there's a lot more to read out there than just books. I only read a handful of actual books last year (not counting all those Marvel Comics compilation tomes I routinely devour) but I read a shit-ton of magazines, newspapers and online articles, not to mention all the reading I've done right here on this forum and others. As I've noted before, I don't read fiction anymore - being an English major crushed my love of literature beyond recovery - and like the fellow quoted in that article, prefer to get my storytelling from film. To that end, I watched hundreds of films last year. I've been trying to figure out for years now why people who devour that many novels look down their noses at my behavior, but they sure seem to, just like the author of TheBookPolice's link seems to be looking down their nose at an entire generation simply for having different cultural reference points than they (I mean, digging through that list, I couldn't find many "facts" that were actually important - so what if kids today never saw Johnny Carson live on The Tonight Show? I'm gonna bet most who read that article never saw Jack Parr! The horror!)


Wags,

1. I'm not really saying that people without landlines are less/more likely to read...I'm questioning the methodology of the poll, since it cuts out a large portion of the public. That combined with it's national scope versus the relatively small sample size (n=1000) is what makes the poll pretty statistically worthless in my eyes of "capturing what's happening in the nation". I'm a bit of a survey nerd, so my quibble is kind of by nerds for nerds. (Not the types of nerds that regularly devour comic book collections.) To say that a poll is not very accurate isn't a big shock - what annoys me about is that it's being reported as fact by pretty much every major news outlet. I guess this is bigger news than A) Iraq, B) Iran, C) various other international Bush fuckups, D) worsening weather patterns, etc.

2. I like that you brought up the fact that your English Major turned you off of books - I know lots of collegiate types, and exactly none of them read for pleasure. I don't know exactly what it is colleges do to ruin reading for people that you'd think would enjoy reading, but I assume it's similar to what they do in music programs that lead to so many music majors not listening to music. (Again, this is only from my personal experience, though it's fairly widespread.)

3. AP Writers seem to predominently look down their noses in general. I'm not sure why - they just hate humanity. Presumably they're not paid well.

-nt-
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Postby Prof. Wagstaff » Wed Aug 22, 2007 4:53 pm

rrnate wrote: I like that you brought up the fact that your English Major turned you off of books - I know lots of collegiate types, and exactly none of them read for pleasure. I don't know exactly what it is colleges do to ruin reading for people that you'd think would enjoy reading, but I assume it's similar to what they do in music programs that lead to so many music majors not listening to music.


First, let me say that I do read for pleasure - just not fiction (again, not counting comics.) I still love reading non-fiction, particularly history of science. And until I became an English major, I still read fiction voraciously (I was a Religious Studies major originally, dropped out and then came back as an English major.) The main problem is, fiction still feels like homework to me. But the deeper problem is that there's absolutely nothing to teach about literature. Nothing. Everything I was "taught" in college was complete bullshit when it came to reading. Some profs teach you "how to read." Nonsense. Others tell you what you should get out of reading. Nonsense. Some will tell you what books "mean." Nonsense. The only valuable English classes I took were the ones that put novels in a historical context. That is an illuminating exercise, to be sure, but one which is just as easily accomplished by reading a history book on your own.

I was an English major for 2½ years.
I failed Shakespeare 3 times.
Why? The answer is telling.
The first professor divided his time between literally reading the plays to us and going off on wild tangents. We only discussed half of the plays in class which ended up on the tests, yet we were still expected to tell him what his interpretation of the plays was (no other opinions were considered valid - he literally told us he was an "expert" and he knew best what the plays were about.) Needless to say, it's impossible to learn anything valuable from someone who thinks his opinions are equivalent to facts.
The second professor expected us to read 3 plays a week. That's just stupid. Obviously, there wasn't time to get anything out of them but the general idea and class discussions were mostly relegated, again, to the professor telling us what she knew were the correct meanings of the text. Needless to say, her opinions differed drastically from the previous professor who was just as certain he knew everything.
The last professor actually seemed decent. We read a reasonable number of plays over a reasonable period of time and he spent most of his lectures explaining historical concepts, difficult words and poetic structure. When test time rolled around, there were two sections. The first consisted of things like matching characters to quotes, identifying quotes by play, act and scene and filling in blanks in other quotes. The second section was a series of essays wherein we had to compare and contrast issues common between plays or characters. I bombed the first section (something like 50%) and nailed the second (I got at least 94 points out of a possible 100 on all three.) This amounted to a failing grade. The comment from the professor was "you clearly lack even a basic understanding of these plays." In other words, "understanding" meant "regurgitation of minutiae" and not "actually getting the important concepts."
After that, I gave up and dropped out.
What the hell good is an English degree anyway?

P.S. I love Shakespeare.
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Postby rrnate » Wed Aug 22, 2007 5:35 pm

Prof. Wagstaff wrote:
First, let me say that I do read for pleasure - just not fiction (again, not counting comics.) I still love reading non-fiction, particularly history of science.


Yeah, sorry - I'd meant "read fiction" but it came out as "read". I'm all coffee-crazed today.

-nt-
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Postby white_rabbit » Wed Aug 22, 2007 8:35 pm

Do books on tape count? If I watch a DVD of "Sense and Sensibility" do I get a Jane Austen chit? And what about really thick magazines?
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Postby Velveeta » Wed Aug 22, 2007 9:18 pm

I always think all the hysteria about people not reading is really funny in the context of some of the books that are coming out these days. I haven't read or seen the movie "The Devil Wears Prada", but honestly, I can't imagine it matters whether I read the book or see the movie. The Gossip Girl series in children's literature is not really going to feed the minds of young girls anymore than Teen Magazine would.

I read a lot, not because I think it makes me smarter, but because some of the stories I choose to inform or entertain myself with do not exist in other mediums. I read books, newspapers, news magazines, trashy magazines, blogs, online magazines, cookbooks..road signs.

The reason people aren't reading books as much these days(this is a trend in publishing that has been proven outside the poll cited) is not that they are stupid as some of you imply with your references to some kind of declining culture. Rather, there are just so many content delivery methods vying for everyone's diminishing free time. There's the internet(myspace, youtube, blogs, online publications), but also podcasting, satellite radio, video gaming(online and offline), widespread access to movie rentals, TIVO, alternative publishing like graphic novels, comic books,... There is just a huge amount of content in different forms competing for that piece of the entertainment/infotainment pie.
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Postby white_rabbit » Wed Aug 22, 2007 9:23 pm

Velveeta wrote:I always think all the hysteria about people not reading is really funny in the context of some of the books that are coming out these days. I haven't read or seen the movie "The Devil Wears Prada", but honestly, I can't imagine it matters whether I read the book or see the movie. The Gossip Girl series in children's literature is not really going to feed the minds of young girls anymore than Teen Magazine would.

I read a lot, not because I think it makes me smarter, but because some of the stories I choose to inform or entertain myself with do not exist in other mediums. I read books, newspapers, news magazines, trashy magazines, blogs, online magazines, cookbooks..road signs.

The reason people aren't reading books as much these days(this is a trend in publishing that has been proven outside the poll cited) is not that they are stupid as some of you imply with your references to some kind of declining culture. Rather, there are just so many content delivery methods vying for everyone's diminishing free time. There's the internet(myspace, youtube, blogs, online publications), but also podcasting, satellite radio, video gaming(online and offline), widespread access to movie rentals, TIVO, alternative publishing like graphic novels, comic books,... There is just a huge amount of content in different forms competing for that piece of the entertainment/infotainment pie.


Too many words. You lost me at hysteria. Can you sum it up for me?
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Postby BobArctor » Wed Aug 22, 2007 9:26 pm

Slightly less than one in four, support a president who doesn't read.
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Postby wolfsbane » Thu Aug 23, 2007 1:51 am

The problem is not that people don't read because they are stupid. The problem is that not reading books is making people stupid. Actually thinking about things involves maintaining attention on long narratives and arguments, pausing to think about things, cross-referencing something an author said here with something they said there... none of these things really happen with watching TV, or even reading little isolated paragraphs here and there on the net or in journalism. There may be the occasional person who can make their way through nothing but a hailstorm of random bits and pieces of information and actually become capable of literacy and competence with logic, but I doubt there are many. Most people need to read books.

Of course, that's just to start, there's also writing. Writing concisely, logically, and expressively is just as integral to thinking, and most people's dismal skills at this would undoubtedly make for even more depressing surveys.

As for the movie/book comparison, I have to agree with the friends that movies don't remotely compare. When I get into a heavy fiction reading mode, movies seem superficial and uninteresting. The longest normal movie would barely make a 100 page book. There just isn't enough time or space to get into the kind of character development or complexity of stories and ideas that are possible with books. I think the reason literature majors go sour on fiction is that they get sold a bill of goods about how books have to involve the use of rarified poetic language to be worth anything. My reading list has very little in common with anyone I ever knew who was a lit major. I read for ideas, characters, gut emotional feel, and fun... most of the stuff my lit major friends think is good seems completely boring and weighed down with self-conscious language use to me.

Also, as far as the assertion that a survey of only 1000 people is invalid because of the small sample size... I wouldn't be so sure. The mathematics behind determining statistical significance, error margins and so forth is often very surprising. The number sounds small in relation to the US population, but I won't discount it on the basis of a bald assertion and a claim to geeky authority. Let's see an explanation of why... What mistake did they make in coming to the conclusion exactly? What number specifically would be a good sample size? If it's that obvious and whoever said this understands it so thoroughly, a few paragraphs of explanation should be easy.
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Postby medbh » Thu Aug 23, 2007 9:28 am

I read constantly, both fiction and nonfiction. I easily go through 4 books a week, much less a year! But I question whether reading a lot is necessarily a good thing. Reading takes time, and especially if you're reading for entertainment, it's not like you walk away from the book a better person or have accomplished anything substantial.

I also read a lot of science/health, environmental and political books, which I wouldn't call entertaining, but I don't know that having read those books necessarily makes that much of a difference either. Obviously I'm more informed and hopefully less likely to be manipulated, but I imagine that I would have had a greater, positive impact on the world or my life if I had used that time to actually do something.
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Postby pulsewidth modulation » Thu Aug 23, 2007 10:27 am

Velveeta wrote:The reason people aren't reading books as much these days(this is a trend in publishing that has been proven outside the poll cited) is not that they are stupid as some of you imply with your references to some kind of declining culture. Rather, there are just so many content delivery methods vying for everyone's diminishing free time.


I agree with this. This poll only asked about books. No other readable medium was polled in relation to books. It also did not compare consumption of written media in relation to available time to consume written media. I've seen better polls that reveal much more about adult literacy issues than this one.

What liberals are really concerned about is: Americans are not reading enough 'bound literature.' On the contrary; Americans are clearly reading more now than in the past because of easy access to limitless information via multiple, and cheap, content delivery mechanisms. Maybe Americans are not reading the kind of material liberals would like, but they are clearly reading more than in the past.

As if the intellectual weight of written language is determined by the medium and its delivery style.

Liberals are trying to spin these poll results as a decay in the acceptance of elite culture; which is typically proliferated via printable text. What a surprise. Established and wealthy liberals, who clearly have more time on their hands to read in the first place, skew simplistic polls like this.

I would contend this is a positive trend. The less elite culture Americans consume, the better off American society will be. Elite culture is counter to the main-stream American values of self worth and self fulfillment. Elite 'bound literature' encourages middle class Americans to view their culture as shameful and un-academic. Why would consuming this kind of garbage make productive citizens better off? It doesn't.
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Postby wolfsbane » Thu Aug 23, 2007 10:52 am

Thanks Pulsewidth for a perfect example of the kind of mindless demagoguery that passes for political dialogue among people who have not developed thinking skills via reading books. A truly textbook collection of baseless assertions, namecalling, strawmen fallacies, impugning motives, and varied misrepresentations. You can go back to whomever issues your talking points and tell them you did well.
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Postby Marvell » Thu Aug 23, 2007 11:00 am

pulsewidth modulation wrote:Liberals are trying to spin these poll results as a decay in the acceptance of elite culture; which is typically proliferated via printable text. What a surprise. Established and wealthy liberals, who clearly have more time on their hands to read in the first place, skew simplistic polls like this.


As usual, you've managed to get everything ass-backwards in your rush to demonize 'liberals.'

The demise of 'bound literature' is a favorite cause celebre of cultural conservatives like Harold Bloom and other 'Great Books' proponents, who champion the works of great dead white men against the rising tide of 'relativists' who propose heretical notions such as non-traditional media being a worthy subject for intellectual analysis.

Steve Nass was recently pandering to this notion by attacking the UW for conducting scholarly analysis of video games. And you know what a 'liberal' Mr. Nass is.

If you're going to weigh in with snide comments on topics you don't understand, you might make a little more effort to construct arguments that aren't absurd on their face. But then you wouldn't be the pulsewidth modification we all know and reluctantly tolerate.
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Postby white_rabbit » Thu Aug 23, 2007 11:06 am

pulsewidth modulation wrote: Established and wealthy liberals, who clearly have more time on their hands to read in the first place, skew simplistic polls like this.



From the article:

People from the South read a bit more than those from other regions, mostly religious books


Yep, them damned liberals.
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Postby pulsewidth modulation » Thu Aug 23, 2007 11:08 am

Does anyone remember the 'books are better' liberal group The Washington Wives?

They also claimed America was experiencing a "cultural decline."
Oh yea, Tipper Gore was one of the privileged elites making these ridiculous proclamations.

Again... there is no "cultural decline." Liberals are just un-happy that Americans don't share their Euro-centric view of the world. ***Yawn***
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Postby Marvell » Thu Aug 23, 2007 11:28 am

pulsewidth modulation wrote:Again... there is no "cultural decline." Liberals are just un-happy that Americans don't share their Euro-centric view of the world.


pw -

repeating a vacuous, empty generalization does not make it somehow suddenly true. Especially when it fundamentally distorts the nature of the argument, and the identity of those making it.

It's overwhelmingly conservatives who are concerned about cultural decline - which they blame on liberals.

As usual, you're just making shit up.
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