Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Americans Have Either Stopped Reading Books or Stopped Lying About It

From the Atlantic:

The Pew Research Center reported last week that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. As in, they hadn't cracked a paperback, fired up a Kindle, or even hit play on an audiobook while in the car. The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978.

8% to 23%! But there's also this: "52 percent of 18-24 year-olds had read a book outside of work or school, the same as in the pre-Facebook days of 2002."

As you would expect them to, the non-reader numbers sort meaningfully by education and income level; everything about being privileged makes it easier to read. My guess is that the decline in reading among the highly educated has at least something to do with what James Surowiecki in this week's New Yorker calls "the cult of overwork":

Thirty years ago, the best-paid workers in the U.S. were much less likely to work long days than low-paid workers were. By 2006, the best paid were twice as likely to work long hours as the poorly paid, and the trend seems to be accelerating. A 2008 Harvard Business School survey of a thousand professionals found that ninety-four per cent worked fifty hours or more a week, and almost half worked in excess of sixty-five hours a week. Overwork has become a credential of prosperity.

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The death of Stieg Larsson has left the casual reader in a dark, lonely abyss.


@Kalorama_Kat You've made me chortle. Brava.


i blame blogs


@j-i-a I blame Downton Abbey.

Ladies Who Punch

@j-i-a THIS. 100% I like to read easily digestible stuff on the internet before bed because, y'know I might fall asleep in a minute or something like that instead of books which have pages and pages. This year my resolution is to try to read more actual books. I found a list of books that are gonna be turned into movies soon [if someone is gonna invest money to make a movie, they're probably not horrible] and started there. I finished a book, Gone Girl, in less than 3 days. I can't wait to read more!


@Ladies Who Punch Same here! I've made a goal to read 30 books not for school this year and I'm ticking them off as I go. I basically downloaded Project Gutenberg.


oh god, I love this!@m


I found the article about overwork really fascinating. This is a subject I think about a lot, as a young healthy person with a livable income but certainly no riches. I could definitely make a lot more money if I picked up a side gig--part time at the local Petsmart, or doing freelance work like the majority of my coworkers. It would be smart to maximize the money while I'm young and invest it heavily for when I'm older.

But dammit, I don't want to work all the time. I like free time. This whole concept of "work constantly or you're worthless" is very new; a century ago, leisure time was prized. You were expected to have free time to pursue hobbies, like art, music, reading, and philosophy. Nowadays, having free time is viewed as being wasteful and a poor choice. I think that's awful. I could be earning a lot more money if I picked up side work. But dammit, I like sitting in my armchair on Saturday afternoons listening to Mozart and reading Dorothy Sayers. I'm not willing to give that up.


@peculiarity Clearly you need to find a way to make listening to Mozart and reading Dorothy Sayers profitable. DO WHAT YOU LOVE!


@peculiarity I'm absolutely with you. And would love to have an armchair of my own across the room from you on Saturdays! With a cup of tea, that sounds perfect. <3<3 Dorothy Sayers!!!


@peculiarity I'm right there with you; I have a history of overextending myself with multiple jobs and extracurriculars. I just can't disagree with those people who are like, "well I work three jobs and am getting a PhD full-time and have four kids and run a volunteer feline AIDS clinic WHY CAN'T YOU?!?!" This year, I'm working on facing my fear of Saying No and enjoying some down time.

Which includes reading books and deflecting the humblebraggers who always need to remark how they just don't see how anyone can have the time to read these days, because gosh, aren't we all so busy?

polka dots vs stripes

@peculiarity Definitely! I like having time to volunteer, and swimming half an hour away a couple nights a week, and to sit on the couch aimlessly on Saturdays reading.

I sometimes convince myself that's "working" - "working to keep my sanity" - and then I'm good on the "Should I get a second job?" guilt for awhile!


@peculiarity Seriously. I just finished grad school (part time while working full time, eff me why did I ever think that was a good idea? I hated it!), and as I was musing on how I would spend my newly-gained time, one of my coworkers actually had the temerity to suggest I spend it working.

Um...no, thanks. I've got the entire rest of my life to spend at work, and I'd rather my obit have something more interesting to say than that I sure was punctual about responding to emails.


@peculiarity you have just described my perfect afternoon. Can we be best friends? Alternatively: are we already best friends and don't know it?


But many Hairpinners read, right? What are you guys reading? I am multi-booking between Kipling's Kim and Rory Miller's Meditations on Violence. Recently finished Patrick Rothfuss's The Wise Man's Fear and consigned him to the dustbin, with GRR Martin, of "Started a Series and Bit Off More Than Was Possible to Chew, Will Never Finish It."


@ru_ri ahhhhh i just read Jamie Quatro's "I Want to Show You More" and am FREAKING OUT about it, I've been thinking of writing about it, but I'm so late, but it fully reset me in terms of being excited about new writers. also Patrick Rothfuss! "The Name of the Wind" is about the extent of my dip into fantasy epics, but I really liked it


@ru_ri I'm in this Scientology phase. Read Lawrence Wright's "Going Clear," which is well done, but also felt like a 500 page newspaper article, a breathtakingly colorful story told in black and white (which I get, since any foray into the subjective opens one to lawsuits). So now I'm on Kate Bornstein's "A Queer and Pleasant Danger," a memoir by a woman who used to be a male Scientologist. Quick, fun read. I will not be venturing into any L. Ron Hubbard.

polka dots vs stripes

@ru_ri I am reading Born to Run about the Tarahumara and ultra runners and it's quite enjoyable.


@ru_ri I am re-reading A Song of Ice and Fire, slowly, and just downloaded The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (on a friend's recommendation) and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling because I've been dying to read it for months. I finished How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran in about 48 hours because I am obsessed with it, and memoirs in general.

I also read a tremendous amount of YA, most recently Eleanor and Park and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

I went through my Amazon wishlist today and bought a bunch of physical books (gasp!) because I just bought a new bookshelf - which is already half-full from the overflow from my first one BUT ANYWAY - and there are so many books you can buy for $0.01 plus shipping. Mostly religious stuff but a few other interesting things too, I think.

Mostly I justify my excessive Netflix/DVR habits by devouring books at an even more rapid pace.


@j-i-a I read about Quatro's book in the New Yorker! It sounded good, and if you are into it I think I will definitely give it a read.
I am still mad at Rothfuss (and Martin) for stringing readers along! But The Name of the Wind was enjoyable.


@Kalorama_Kat Wait, wait, what? A memoir by a woman who used to be a male Scientologist? THIS I MUST SEE.


@Alli525 RAINBOW ROWELL IS THE BESTEST. Yay for reading!


@ru_ri I really really have to read some of her stuff--should I start with Eleanor & Park? Oh, actually, I just now got around to "Americanah" too, and am LOVING IT.


@ru_ri I have books that I got for Christmas on my to-read list - Junot Diaz's "This is How You Lose Her" and "This Is A Call," which is about Dave Grohl.


@ru_ri the subtitle is "The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology, and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today." It's pretty amusing. Kate is one of only two women to earn a degree from Brown before they integrated; of course, Kate was Arthur at the time, but she got Brown to go back and change her records to reflect that she is and always was Kate, which I think is pretty cool on her and Brown both.

Ladies Who Punch

@ru_ri I just finished reading "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn. It is SO GOOD. It's a thriller, but her prose is gentle & natural. It isn't the story itself, but how good she is at getting it to unfold. I devoured that book in less than 3 days.


@j-i-a READ ELEANOR & PARK it is the best book. Maybe because I was also a teenager in the 80s (when it takes place? Eleanor is my age) it rang really true for me. I have forced all my friends to read it, too.


@ru_ri SECONDED. Read Eleanor & Park. Drop everything. It's urgent.

(true confession: I was so emotionally wrapped up in that book that I made a high pitched whine noise and held back tears for the entire last quarter of reading.)


@adorable-eggplant I read it on a transcontinental flight. WEEPING. Thank god everyone was asleep. Then I read it again before we landed. I wish there was a sequel.


@ru_ri Yup, I thank my luck stars that I was not in public for that one because I was a blotchy weepy mess, but God it was Good.

fallopian princess

@ru_ri Anyone who enjoyed Eleanor & Park should also check out Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe! It's a coming of age love story also set in the 80's, but with two Mexican boys as the main characters.


@fallopian princess Put in a request at my local library. I'm on it!


@ru_ri I'm also reading about Scientology! I'm working on Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill


@Alli525 You should also check out Rowell's Attachments. It's seriously adorable.


(i havent finished a non-comic-book since 2011)but i read a ton of long internet articles, i listen to selected shorts, and a history podcast that updates quarterly and is four hours long....


@RachelTheC Hey, reading is reading, yo! And I think comic books count twice as much... (I just found the comic version of Don Quixote and it definitely counted for more than the original.)

Respect for the history podcasts! I don't think I could handle four hours of history on the best of days.


@RachelTheC Comics totally count! Just whipped through volumes 1 and 2 of Saga, and it's the best thing I've read in ages. Ages.

And I am champing at the bit for the Ms. Marvel release: I'm planning to get the digital ed and several paper copies for giving to nieces.

Ideal Impulse

What timing! I have a question related to this article: a friend of mine's boyfriend is in his mid-30s and has never read a book (he says), and asked me to recommend one. I find it very sweet that he asked me, but I'm kinda stymied.
DETAILS: He is originally from the UK, but has been living in Canada/US for the past 15 years. He comes from a working class family and was tracked into a trade school program in high school, so he didn't have a typical HS experience. He has been working as a chef for the past 10 years. He recently started reading those buzzfeed longer form articles like this one http://www.buzzfeed.com/markslutsky/how-the-youtube-comments-section-became-our-cultures-secret and he enjoys them. He has some knowledge of US history/culture, but not a lot. He likes fishing. He really like Game of Thrones TV show, but I think a big part of that is the social element (watching it with friends, etc). He really does want to read a book (and his girlfriend, my friend, wants to make a "bookclub" between the two of them out of it).
Any recommendations?


@Ideal Impulse A chef memoir? Blood, Bones & Butter looks good, but I haven't gotten a chance to read it yet, so I'm not 100% certain.

de Pizan

@Ideal Impulse Maybe Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, or The River Why by David James Duncan.


@Ideal Impulse maybe something by Mary Roach? She writes great pop-science nonfiction... I find that her books are easy to read, and chapters can more or less stand on their own (basically just collections of "check out all these weird facts I found out about ____!") She's written books about sex (Bonk), the digestive system (Gulp), cadavers (yep) (Stiff), and space travel (Packing for Mars). She is also clearly a weirdo, in a good way.


@adorable-eggplant blood bones & butter is pretty good! this is less memoir-y and more meditative, but tamar adler's an everlasting meal is another food one that i really really love.

vine fruit

@j-i-a yessss I love An Everlasting Meal


@Ideal Impulse What about 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement? Contains food, history, interesting social stuff. Read and enjoyed by three generations in my family.


My oldest brother has read just about every book there ever was, and can tell you all about it, but my second eldest brother never enjoyed reading anything other than comics. He got an audible account last year, however, and it has been so awesome and tender to hear him want to discuss the last chapter he listened to, and ask me for new book recommendations. Hooray, audiobooks.

Better to Eat You With

These numbers look way, way better to me than I would have expected had I listened to all the people shrieking about the death of the book, and than I would have expected considering my freshman comp students' general antipathy toward reading. They left me optimistic about books, actually.

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