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February 15, 2006


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it would be interesting to see the statistic that compares the number of Harry Potter books sold vs the number of people who've actually read Harry Potter...


Good point.

In some ways, it is disingenuous for me to have posted these numbers. In the fall, I had a 'discussion' with Paul where he was expressing a concern about people no longer reading books and I was pushing a set of questions along the lines of 'what is the big deal about book?' 'why don't you count magazines, newspapers, blogs?' I think the importance of book reading may have something to do with a sustained endeavor, an activity that takes place over time, that involves capacities beyond stimulus/response.


what about listening to books on tape?


As a public library employee, albeit only part-time, library use might've been an interesting inclusion -- though I doubt it would be considerably different. I must say, though, I've been pleasantly surprised to see some of the books returned.


Brad--good point; a better analysis would say more about library use.

Rodkong--good question, and it addresses the issue I was discussing with Paul: is the value supposed to inhere in the activity of reading or in the information/item/narrative consumed? So, an elitist academic answer might want to say that there is inherent superiority in listening to War and Peace on tape over reading Chicken Soup for the Mommy's Soul. But why? If reading is supposed to be 'better' or intrinsically important, what establishes this? I don't have an argument here that can address the form of information acquistion (reading) by itself.


...Over the summer I listened to David Mccullough's 1776 on tape. When the book came up in a conversation I was embarrassed to say that I had listened to it because I felt that my accomplishment lacked the merit of actually reading 300 pages. My insecurity aside, I still retained the same information (mental illustrations and all)that would have recieved if I had read the book. When I asked my Uncle if he enjoyed 1776, he said he had to put it down because he found it to be boring...I gave him the book on tape for christmas...


The 42% of college graduates who never read another book is the number that jumps out at me. I wonder if there are a lot of people going to college who find the experience an excruciating ordeal because they do not like to read?


Lynn--that's a good question. And, if the answer is yes, then is the problem that they weren't taught to enjoy reading when they were young? that they get a preponderance of anti-reading messages in the culture? that colleges should work to present information to non-readers? what would the repercussions of the answers be?

Relatedly, some students hate listening to lectures. They don't find that a good way to learn. To my mind, one needs to learn how to listen to a lecture, that this should be one among a number of ways by which a person can receive and retain information.

Rodkong--my father, who gets stuck in lots of traffic, listens to books on tape regularly. He's also a big reader, so I think that the experiences for him are qualitatively the same. I'm not a fan of books on tape myself, but, that said, I loved hearing Into Thin Air while on a long drive once.


Right through my PhD coursework, I regularly encountered students who didn't do the readings on a regular basis. Apparently "they were too hard" or "they were too long" is an acceptable excuse for some not to read a single page. But then, those who read aren't always much better: I recall one student -- and he told me before seminar that he was trying to impress the instructor [my supervisor, for what it is worth] -- repeatedly referring to Montesquieu as "a democrat". The chapter on England's constitution may have confused him. Of course, I'm in no position to brag: on my comprehensives I've gone out of my way to avoid as much reading as possible. I justify this on instrumental grounds.

Amish Lovelock

It's the system. It's just gotta be.


hi Jodi,

On the plus side, that means there's a lot less people reading the Left Behind series than I'd feared.

It'd be interesting to compare these numbers with others, like changes in working hours and in the erosion of situations of group reading (I'm thinking of worker and feminist movement study groups, for instance, but bible study groups'd be another).

One of the main things I learned in undergrad was how to get to know books quickly when I hadn't read them. Another skill was to leaf quickly in order to find a point to make and pick a fight about in a book in the first 15-30 minutes of class while the professor lectured, in order to seem smart and like I had done the reading. That skill served quite well in some office jobs I had before I went back to school. I also suspect it's a practice rife among grad students, and some faculty. (A professor friend used to joke "read it? I haven't even taught it!" and I know some of my fellow students aren't doing reading at least some of the time - and yet still talking about it in class... some of my philosophy friends claim this is more the case in comp lit than elsewhere, I have no idea if this is so.) What do you think Jodi, any grad students or faculty you know talking about books they haven't read, or talking in ways in order to deliberately come off such that they seem like they've read more than they have? (That may sound like I'm intimating something, if so sorry and not my intent.)

take care,


Jodi, definetly agree with you about your take on whether counting books is the right way to judge if people are reading. In my line of work I read sometimes hundereds of pages of papers a day, which is tiring to your eyes. I am also in the process of studying for a professional exam after work. While I always set time aside to study sometimes my eyes are just too tired to focus on reading any more pages. I love to read, but with so much more of our work revolving around focusing on a computer screen and reading detailed documents, leisure reading has taken a back seat. Not to mention that the television is all too easy to flip on and provide hours of distraction.

Amish Lovelock

This caught my eye:




Those are interesting questions. I did a quick and dirty browse of literacy studies. It would seem that reading skills are higher for those children whose parents read, own books, and encourage their children to read. Those children also read more outside of the classroom.

I read a Pew study that said 73% of college students use the Internet more than the library for information.

I can see how difficult these kinds of questions are to answer after doing only a little research.

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