So you can read my books

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


The Pew Research Center reported last week that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. 

As in, they hadn't cracked the spine of a paperback, fired up a Kindle, or even hit play on an audiobook while in the car. 

The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978.

 In 1978, Gallup found that 42 percent of adults had read 11 books or more in the past year 

(13 percent said they'd read more than 50!).

 Today, Pew finds that just 28 percent hit the 11 mark.

The number of books an American reads tends to be closely associated with his or her level of education.

College enrollment last year fell by nearly half a million.

 Between 2012 and 2013, the Census Bureau reported, 463,000 fewer people were enrolled in college.

In fact, this is the second year enrollment has fallen by that much, 

bringing the two-year total to 930,000 fewer college students, bigger than any drop before the recession.

Our natural response is to deny.  I am sure the dinosaurs did a lot of that before the end.

The decline could have grim consequences as people tune out books, tune in popular culture and become less socially and civicly engaged.
It's fairly obvious why teenagers today aren't devoting more time toward reading:
There are simply more and cooler ways to distract oneself than in the previous generations.

How many teenagers today don't have both a cell-phone and an i-Pad?
Very few.

When faced with the decision of whether to read a novel or dive into social media, a majority of teens today are going cyber-diving.

After many years of a childhood that didn't have interactions with books on their own, 

they are forced to read the school’s regardless of the topic and develop a negative attitude toward them.

This hatred of books lasts into teenage years and leads many to never read again.

The future built by the current teenage generation will be one where books and reading 

as well as knowledge and reasoning becoming less important if they continue their ignorance toward literacy.

This scares me and causes me to think that indeed there will be a plateau of human intellect if not a decline with few advances in all subjects.

In a dangerous world filled with stress, the key to survival is memory.

So says the author of The Executioners (later known as "Cape Fear"), John D. MacDonald.

In his last published work before he died in 1986, MacDonald set out to inspire us with Reading for Survival.

This thirty-one page essay was published in 1987 by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

It was also sponsored by the Florida Center for the Book in Fort Lauderdale.

The essay takes the form of a series of conversations between his fictitious protagonist, Travis McGee, and his friend known only as "Meyer", an economist, teacher and lecturer.

Meyer guides us through his version of the evolution of communication beginning with our earliest ancestors' dependency on memory in order to live in the wilderness,

recognize signs of nature and the animal kingdom, and then share that knowledge with future generations.

Meyer asks, "Can one examine his own life without reference to the realities in which he lives?"

What about the non-reader, the person who wants to believe that just because he isn't well informed there is no harm?

He's the one "born every minute" that signs up for that variable interest loan with a dubious lender.

MacDonald warns us of the teacher who promotes himself as the translator. 

Beware the translator who interprets the information for you.

Think for yourself, he suggests.  And to do that you must read, must be informed.

He warns of the terrible isolation of the nonreader:

 his life is without meaning or substance because he cannot comprehend the world in which he lives

Education, literacy, reading, thinking and remembering are MacDonald's prescription for enduring.

He leaves us with a warning from Mark Twain, 

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."

“Sorry,” Meyer said. “I was just…”
“I know. Thinking.”
 He took another swallow. He walked over and sat by the coffee table and put his drink near the lantern.
“Strange thing about an idea,” he said. 

“You can never tell whether it is composed of relationships you should have seen before. Most ideas are merely structures—

things built on bits of knowledge and insight you already possess. 

If the knowledge you possess is in error, the structure will be flawed.
 I sat across from him. “What’s this one about?
“Maybe the stress of survival.”
 “I’ve been stressed now and then .”
 “I am thinking of the long range. And if Man actually has a long range remaining to him.”


  1. My children read.They are 28 and 34. Favorite Young Man quite often borrows books from me, and I usually give him books for Christmas and his birthday. He also has friends who read a great deal. However, I realize that a lot of people don't read anymore. I did not allow Nintendo in our home when the children were young. Some of the girls who dated FYM thanked me because he was the only young man they knew who wasn't addicted to gaming. I wonder if college enrollment is down because people are finding that a college degree doesn't guarantee obtaining a job.


  2. People reading fewer books than ever is a sad fact. Surely a major reason is the ready availability of easy entertainment on TV and electronics. But a smaller reason has to be that we are too busy in the U.S.; we work longer hours than ever, are more stressed, more crazy busy. And surely a major reason why college enrollment is down is because the costs of that education has skyrocketed.

    I wish far more people would read books and stories; I wish more would understand how deeply enjoyable reading is. But that's not what's happening.

  3. I think college enrollment is down because many can't afford the high tuition.

    Both our daughters read and they read a lot of books we read to understand the programs they see now. (more current books like Kerouac and Hunter S.,)Game of Thrones got many reading and so did the Harry Potter and The Hobbit and LOTR books.

    It matters a lot whether there are role models for reading. My mother read a lot, every chance she got, rather than watching tv. I learned to read before I went to school because I was impatient to read books by myself.

    It will be a sad generation if they don't read, and the 'grid' goes down. Perhaps the robots will have no problem assuming control. . .

  4. Jamie:
    Readers tend to have children who read. Double that when those readers are also writers.

    Social Media is dwindling the number of young readers alas.

    I think you are right: college no longer guarantees finding a job. Why spend the large dollars for a maybe, right?

    It is always good to see you here.

    College does cost so much. As Jamie says, it does not guarantee a job. But it heightens the perceptions of each person who goes, enriching their appreciation of the world around them. It is hard to put a price tag on that, right?

    You're right: role models are so important in so many facets of life. We as a people are reading less, and we as a People will suffer for it sadly. :-(

  5. What's the saying? Stupid is as stupid does?
    A joy of reading starts with the parents. If they aren't instilling it in their kids, no one else will.

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  7. Let me try this again...
    As D.G. and Alex said, the love of reading starts with the parents (or at least an early caregiver or custodian such as a teacher). Any relationship between a university education and reading is purely spurious. By the time a student reaches college, if he or she hasn't developed a love of reading, it's certainly not going to happen in a college classroom. And while enrollments may have fallen over the past year or two, this hasn't been true for the last quarter century, yet reading has been on a steady downhill spiral.

    No clue what variables are actually at play here other than this our culture's enthusiastic embrace of ignorance. Maybe it's easier not to think or reason in a world constantly plagued with threats: ISIS, threat of war, ebola, climate change—pick your poison. Maybe Big Brother is intentionally feeding us a constant stream of reality TV and celebrity culture to keep us stupid, because stupid people who don't know how to think or reason for themselves are far easier to control. Pick your conspiracy theory and run with it.

    I need to quit referring to myself as a recovering sociologist. It's clear, I will never recover. :)

    VR Barkowski

  8. How true, unfortunately... I agree that children do what they see in their home first. I've done that -my parents love to read- and I'm always with a book in my hand, so my daughters like to read too. I see though how strong the tug of social media, etc. is...

  9. Alex:
    Yes, Mother read to me and bought me books of my favorite cartoon characters to encourage me to read and to find fun in reading.

    I don't know about college and reading: I saw several studies and statistics. But reading is a must to learn early I agree!

    I hear of the Dumbing Down of America, and I am beginning to believe it. Hidden agenda or just the tide of too much input and too little appreciation of what reading offers? Big Brother must be rubbing his hands in glee.

    And once a sociologist, always one, I think. :-)

    The allure of social media is almost brain washing of a sort. Ours is becoming a self-loving culture, hence the Selfie!

  10. Hi Roland .. I got lost as a child in books - for many a year I'd read as often as I could get away with it - i.e. no demand to get up and get going ... we did that anyway ... a long reading morning was bliss. I really should do it again now - perhaps the early bird will catch the book worm ...

    I do read lots .. but mostly 'research' and I don't do social media ... and I do listen to educational talks, film and documentaries ...

    I do have a horror - that people don't want to know and learn ... but others thankfully do - it will be the readers and the non-readers society soon ...

    I think that many role models and celebrities are very intelligent - but that's not what the media write about/or present. Wish people would realise ... to achieve we need to work hard and be diligent ... cheers Hilary