Monday, January 12, 2009

Great News

Reading on the rise for the first time in 26 years. (Warning, link is to .pdf.)

The biggest rise in rates comes from young adults, who I would argue had been treated in this new century to a rather fertile selection of novels, series, graphic novels, and online material. People have claimed for years that "Americans don't read" despite the huge growth in big box bookstores which have always been packed with people when I've gone, even on Friday and Saturday nights.

Surprisingly, only one group of adults declined in reading over the last six years: 45-54 year olds, a key "when I was a kid" demographic of complainers who don't seem to be pulling their weight.

Bad news for The Tomato: poetry reading continues to decline. Oddly it comes from a steep decline among female poetry readers. Young men just aren't wooing like they used to, eh? And to think the great Charles Simic got into the poetry gig to impress a girl (as did many and many a poet, I suspect). Sigh.

What other nuggets are in there? Older readers less likely to read online articles. Also, older readers less likely to know how to use current technology figures hold static for the last one hundred years. I suspect spears came as quite a shock to the older generations of Neanderthals who grunted "sharp rocks good enough for me, good enough for me kids."

Readers now make up a slight majority of Americans. Based on how my family thinks, they'd take this as my cue to give up reading.

And on this note, let me tell you that I've finally decided to take another stab at reading and finishing Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.



Erin said...


I myself have stopped reading poetry, granted I haven't read much of anything that hasn't been assigned the past few years, so I don't know if I count.

Citizen Carrie said...

I can provide some insight into the decline in reading within the ages 45-54 demographic group. We are wearing bifocals, and it takes about 10-15 years of prescription adjustments before we can finally start reading again. (Or before we give up and start reading large print editions.)

Alley Cat said...

(I'm using both my names to confuse everyone.) I was just thinking about poetry the other day. I wanted to treat myself to a birthday present of a book of poetry at Borders a few years ago, and I saw they only had about one-and-a-half shelves of poetry volumes in a rather smallish bookcase. I remember when they used to have a huge section of an entire length of a wall devoted to poetry.

The Critic said...

Luckily, our Borders still has a double sided set of two bookshelves (for a total of four shelving units) filled with poetry.

I myself have to admit that I read far less poetry than I did just a scant few years ago when I set myself the task of reading the full volumes I owned of Shelley, Wordsworth, Byron, Whitman and Keats. In between I read quite a bit more modern stuff like Pound's Cantos, Simic, James Tate, Sherman Alexie, and others. When we went for our western vacation, I took the Whitman with me, as befits a trip to Yellowstone, I believe.

I still have a few big volumes I've meant to get back to reading like a semi-complete works of Ginsberg, a complete Anne Sexton, and a few others.

But you really do owe it to yourself to strap on your bifocals and grab some James Tate. He's quite fun. The Tomato turned me on to him, even if he is a Pulitzer winner and there is no excuse for my not knowing his name.

The poet who's reading at the inauguration ceremony, Elizabeth Alexander, is also quite good.

I guess a lot of people don't read poetry because the county as a whole doesn't promote it much or reward it at all. Also because you get exposed to it mostly in high school and it's hard to understand for lots of kids then. This, I think, is because there is this sense among some teachers who live and breathe for "the canon" that the most important thing they can do for poetry is beat kids over the head with Beowulf, Shakespeare's sonnets, and other well-nigh impenetrable pieces.

Teachers like that tend, in my experience, to either have a non-communicable love for the work or do it out of sheer grinding duty. None of which makes kids like poetry. A great loathing for literature of all kinds is instilled at the school level. I don't know how many books I came back to love later when I was an adult and I could actually understand them. Heart of Darkness was just simply beyond my appreciation level in high school, while Cujo did the trick nicely. Had I not even had Cujo would I have gotten back around to Conrad?

I'd much rather the kids, at that age, developed a love of reading just for the sake of reading, with the hope that some day they'd pick up Keats on their own, rather than be inoculated against enjoyment at such a young age.

The Critic said...

Alley Carrie, would you like to be updated on the blogroll seeing as how your online identity has evolved over time?

Sarah said...

What the majority of people think when they think of poetry is complete shite. They should read the Tomato's work for a very enjoyable surprise.

Yippee for Proust! Bust out the madeleines!

Alley Cat, for the last time said...

Thanks for the offer, Critic. I'll take you up on it, seeing as how I forget who I am half the time.

I agree, Sarah. This past summer I looked over my old poetry volumes that I've had since high school and decided I needed a change. I decided to keep the books for my kids.

Thanks for the suggestions, Critic. And yes, the Award-Winning Modest Tomato (who hasn't shown up yet to take his bows) is quite fun to read.

The Critic said...

Consider it done, as in eyes leftward.