If you read more, you’d have the answers to these questions

I debated bringing this up, but in the interest of self-interest, I’m a little annoyed that the Northeast ranked lowest in the nation for readers in the AP-IPSOS poll. Here I am in a town thronged with bookstores, amid towns thronged with bookstores, and yet apparently just 69% of the population here in the Northeast read last year—31% read no books at all.I think the next time someone tells you they haven’t read a book, it’s okay to call them the end of Western Civilization, to blame them for societal ills and in general to make them feel like a bad person. I still like the quote from a story a father once told me on a train, of his oldest son, talking to his youngest one, who was always asking the older brother for advice. The older brother said:

If you read more, you’d have the answers to these questions.

One respondent claimed he got sleepy when he read a book, and there is a growing group of people who believe that reading to children at night before bed doesn’t make them readers—it makes them associate reading with going to bed. So read to your kids during the day and at night, I have no idea what could possibly make them go to sleep. All I know is that my niece and nephews don’t respond well to being read to at night, in terms of sleeping—it just makes them more animated, and they demand more books. My nice Mathilda even developed a chant early on, just before she turned 2, where she’d say ‘book-book-book-book’ until her father read one more to her. Which is more or less how I was, eventually reading at night with a flashlight in bed, and turning it off and pretending to be asleep when my mother opened the door to my room.

I think the real truth is more dire: that Americans are at work too much to read, which is closer to the truth in the Northeast. And which may be a kind of ignorance. I don’t know if television interferes with reading time, but besides work, time spent on social networking sites, text messaging and online chat is also a problem. Also email.

Where do people read the most? The Midwest. Who reads the most? Women more than men, by almost two to one—women read on the average 9 books a year, men, 5.

When I was the assistant editor at Out Magazine during the start-up, we had a marketing study we sent out with our ad kit to advertisers, with figures on the gay and lesbian market. At that time, our study showed that lesbians read the most, an average of something like 23 books a year, with gay men at 14, straight women at 11, and straight men at an average of 1 book a year.

Yes. An average of 1. Does this mean heterosexual men are less intelligent? Not precisely. Though they are also bringing us down, in addition to the Northeast, where no one ever goes home from work. One reading of that figure is that heterosexual men feel like the world belongs to them and so they are less likely to think they need to read about it. They still make more money than heterosexual women without actually being better in the workplace, for example, so they don’t feel the need to read anything and perhaps never have, in general, keeping in mind that many straight men are excellent and voracious readers. But if we were to achieve gender parity finally in pay, for example, they might feel threatened, and then they might read something, anxious to improve themselves.

Until then, keep reading, so next time at least we (for those of you in the Northeast) don’t fall behind every other region of the country.


  1. Americans’ reading habits are just more evidence of our laziness, which seems to grow boundlessly. We prefer the simple, 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, as well. I blogged on this one, too.

  2. “I think the next time someone tells you they haven’t read a book, it’s okay to call them the end of Western Civilization, to blame them for societal ills and in general to make them feel like a bad person.”

    Here, here! I am in complete agreement. Those statistics just make me want to cry while downing a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

    I like your theory that Americans spend too much time working rather than reading. I know it’s true in my case. I spend eight hours a day at the money-making job and then go home and do domestic work; the typical cooking, cleaning, and clothes washing that every American must devote time to. By bedtime I’m so zonked reading is out of the question.

    I have to make time for reading in my day, and that time is usually the hour long subway commute to and from work. Most people don’t make time to read because reading isn’t a priority. In all honesty I can’t think of a time when reading was a priority in this country, not during my life time at least. With so many alternative sources of information, why bother with 250 pages when you can grab snippits on Yahoo, Wikipedia, or the Daily Show?

  3. We work way too much. If Americans had European-size vacations they’d read more. Publishing in America is being crushed by the lack of actual vacations and downtime, the way the arts are treated as just decoration, instead of a vital part of life. We all feel the need to be more than a credit-card farm as a country, and yet we need to actually do something about it.

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