In a cultural moment when we are hearing nothing but bad news, we have reassuring evidence that the dumbing down of our culture is not inevitable.
~Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts
Good news from the National Endowment for the Arts. According to a report it released today, “Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy,” fiction reading increased for adults for the first time after a quarter-century of decline.
A New York Times article about the report stated that for the first time since 1982, which is when the US Census Bureau started collecting data on public participation in the arts,
…the proportion of adults 18 and older who said they had read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the previous 12 months has risen.
Wooo-hooo! People are reading again.
Fiction accounts for the new growth in adult readers (unfortunately, reading of poetry and drama specifically has continued to decline) and online book reading has gone up (something I personally can’t get into). Also up is reading among younger adults (ages 18-24) and Hispanics. ¡Viva!
Mr. Gioia attributed the increase in part to programs the NEA has underwritten, such as the “Big Read,” which is a library partnership to encourage communities to champion particular books, like The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
He also attributed the increase to things like Oprah Winfrey’s book club and the phenomenon of young adult fiction like Harry Potter or the Twilight Series. (I read the first five Harry Potter books out loud to my daughters and then got hooked and had to finish up the last two on my own.)
Not to put too much of the credit on our shoulders, but I think blogs that encourage reading (see our post “Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read” as one of many examples, and “The World According To Mr. Schminda (et al.)” for a list of about 100 must-read classics) have also played a small but vital role. Just peruse some of the links on our blogroll and you’ll see several fellow bloggers reviewing classic works of fiction or otherwise touting books and reading. And these are just a handful of the thousands of literary-minded blogs that have cropped up over the past couple of years.
I know I’m doing my part in countering the dumbing down of America. Right now, I’m reading the first Stephenie Meyers book in the Twilight series outloud to my youngest (one could argue it’s not exactly high literature nor age-appropriate for a nine-year-old, but hey, it took us more than three months to finish The Hobbit last year, and already in four nights we’re one-fourth of the way through Twilight).
Then on my own, I’m reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. (And yes, it is hard to switch between a 17-year-old in Forks, Oregon Washington who’s falling in love with a vampire versus a pair of Jewish escapists/cartoonists in 1930s Prague and Brooklyn.)
What about you? What book or books are you reading in this new year, and have you consumed more fiction of late than in the past? If so, what has compelled you read more?