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.