Only 47% of American adults read “literature” (poems, plays, narrative fiction) in 2002, a drop of 7 points from a decade earlier. Those reading any book at all in 2002 fell to 57%, down from 61%.
NEA chairman Dana Gioia, himself a poet, called the findings shocking and a reason for grave concern.
“We have a lot of functionally literate people who are no longer engaged readers,” Gioia said in an interview with The Associated Press. “This isn’t a case of ‘Johnny Can’t Read,’ but ‘Johnny Won’t Read.'”
The likely culprits, according to the report: television, movies and the internet.
. . . The drop in reading was widespread: among men and women, young and old, black and white, college graduates and high school dropouts. The numbers were especially poor among adult men, of whom only 38% read literature, and Hispanics overall, for whom the percentage was 26.5.
The decline was especially great among the youngest people surveyed, ages 18 to 24. Only 43% had read any literature in 2002, down from 53% in 1992.
What do non-readers do with their leisure time? The Washington Post answers:
Of the adults surveyed, 95.7 percent preferred watching television, 60 percent preferred attending a movie and 55 percent preferred lifting weights or doing other exercise to reading literature. Even 47 percent chose working in the garden.
They prefer lifting weights?