Reading: Death, Rebirth or Atomization?

July 16, 2007

Biblioaddict recently noted the rash of articles lamenting the imminent demise of reading, now that Harry Potter is nearing his end. The stories include one from The Washington Post citing studies by the National Endowment for the Arts and others that point to dramatically declining readership of fiction — for example, their numbers show that most high school kids aren’t reading for pleasure at all.

In contrast, the BBC reports on a study from the UK that finds people are actually reading more than they were in the 1970s. The conclusion: people’s busier-than-ever lives are filled with more little schedule gaps, which they are filling with books. In the US, the study finds people are now spending an average of seven minutes per day reading a book versus five minutes in 1975. Not exactly cause for breaking out the champagne, but it’s a worthwhile handful of straw to grasp.

Over the last decade or two, I find myself reading more, but less of that time is spent reading books. More than ever, the call of the Internet is drawing my eyeballs away. When I do read, the sessions are shorter and those moments of total immersion are becoming fragmented into little disconnected shards.

The less I visit those otherworld bubbles of fiction, the more I miss them.

Are you reading less these days, too…?

Update: You can read the complete NEA report in pdf format here.


  1. In the UK, they are more likely to be traveling to work on mass transit rather than driving as we do here in the US, hence more reading time.

    I don’t count the words I see on the Net as reading.

    I don’t think anyone should.

  2. Mass transit is a plausible explanation. I wonder what the French are doing, with 18 minutes of reading time per day now (versus 10 minutes in 1975).

    Net reading certainly can’t count toward that calming, immersive kind of reading that I associate with book reading. It feels sort of similar to newspaper reading/scanning, though, with constant headline scans interspersed with blurb skims and actual article-length reads.

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