Kindling Debate

It’s a trifle ironic that, on the same day that the new NEA jeremiad, er, report on how reading is going to hell in a handbasket (again) Amazon finally released its e-book reader, Kindle. So, if nobody reads anymore, is Kindle – or, as Newsweek puts it in swooningly glowing terms, “the future of reading” – doomed?

According to the NEA, using a Kindle isn’t reading. As Linda Braun points out at YALSA’s blog, reading online texts does not count (and, in fact, the report expresses astonishment that using the Internet to find information correlates positively with reading proficiency. How can that be?) Also, the report continues to lament the decline in reading without really looking at it historically. Only half of Americans between 18 and 24, the report says, read a book for pleasure. (The only reading that counts is in print and for no particular purpose other than pleasure; I wonder what the faculty who assign all those books would think about that?) They note that’s a decrease in the past ten years – but is probably higher than fifty years ago. Steve Wasserman said in an article in the LA Times last August that a 1955 Gallup poll found only 17% of Americans “read books.” Oh – and multitasking is bad. So stop it. Right now. Get off the Internet and go read something.

All in all, there seems to be a bit more skepticism about the NEA’s doomsday scenario than the last time they reported the sky was falling. And given the vigor with which the Kindle gadget is being debated, the death of reading – and books – seems to be greatly exaggerated.

Author: Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

5 thoughts on “Kindling Debate”

  1. Sigh. I should do a proper gutting–er–dissection of this jeremiad, but…98 pages? Where an initial pass shows that they flip-flop between “reading for fun” and “literary reading,” they commonly use chartjunk (charts that exaggerate change by using a non-zero axis point)…well, maybe your post says enough.

    98 pages. I’d rather, you know, read a book. When I go down to my public library, I see loads of people who seem to be checking out lots of those antiques and bringing them back. I guess they must have really interesting bindings.

  2. Heck, I spend an hour a day reading blogs and news online: who’s going to tell me that doesn’t count as *real* reading, just because I don’t pick up a newspaper? I’m with Linda Braun! It’s obviously time for the NEA (et al) to acknowledge that much of the reading we do, like everything else, is going digital. And that doesn’t make it any less valuable…

  3. Just finished leafing through the 1475 edition of the NEA report on reading, where they lament the decline in reading illuminated manuscripts. Printed works just don’t count, you see.

  4. The statistic that bothered me was (if I’m recalling it correctly) something to do with homes where the parents are college graduates, but there are FEWER than 10 books in the house.

    I think the only ROOM in my house with fewer than 10 books in it is the bathroom.

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