Unless you work at a library, one of every four people you see today will not have read a book in the past year.
According to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released yesterday, Americans' fat and lazy habits extend to reading, too. The typical American claimed to have read four books in the past year -- half read more and half read fewer.
Apparently, Americans' reading habits are just more evidence of our laziness, which seems to grow boundlessly. We prefer the simplest, passive processes of information consumption, and are willing to sacrifice a little bit of imagination for the convenience. Our much-vaunted American obesity isn't just physical, but it's apparently intellectual and spiritual, too.
Who is reading ... and who is not? Nearly a third of men and a quarter of women are non-readers. They tend to be older, less educated, lower income, minorities, from rural areas and less religious.
Readers tend to include slightly more women, college graduates, and older Americans. Democrats and self-described liberals typically read slightly more books than Republicans and conservatives. Westerners and Midwesterners tend to be the most well-read; Southerners the least. But Southerners who do read tend to read more religious and romance books than everyone else. Anglos read more than blacks and Hispanics. And people who never go to church read almost twice as much as regular churchgoers.
Didn't Oprah, Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble transform America's book-reading habits? Actually, no. They merely transformed America's book-buying habits. Fact is, books remain too much work for a big portion of our wussified, slothful culture. It takes an effort (and, often, an expense) to read a book, but TV is cheaper and requires no effort. And it's becoming too much work for TV-watchers to go to the neighborhood video store, so they have their DVDs mailed to them in pre-paid return envelopes.
Publishers sold $35.7 billion in books around the world last year, 3 percent more than the previous year, according to the Book Industry Study Group. About 3.1 billion books were sold. That's one book for every two people on the planet!
Yes, more books are being sold today than ever before in history, but here in the States, it's only because Americans are so susceptible to marketing. In 50 years, John Steinbeck's "East of Eden" never sold a million copies -- until Oprah chose it for her book club. (I'm personally convinced that most of Oprah's readers never read it, and many of the rest didn't understand it.) Many of those books are being purchased and sit unread on the nightstand until they go in the garage-sale pile or to Goodwill.
Fergawdsakes, go read a book. Join Shelfari. Visit a book club. See the inside of your library (which your taxes built.) Discover the power of your imagination. If you have never read a book, post a message here or email me and I'll arrange to send you a signed copy of my first novel, Angel Fire.