Outside editorial: Welcome to the U.S. of the unread

Posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Remember when everyone was in a veritable and justifiable kerfuffle over G-men snooping around libraries and bookstores to see what patrons were reading, all in the name of the War on Terror?

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Code green. The FBI's job just got easier.

Turns out, that for a nation awash in words, Americans aren't reading books the way they used to.

"I just get sleepy when I read," a Dallas manager told the Associated Press. He hadn't read a book in a year.

The culprits for his ilk's aversion to books, analysts told the AP, range from competition from the Internet and other media to an unsteady economy.

The Texan represented a far too common group in the Associated Press-Ipsos poll released last week. One-fourth of adults said they had read no books in the past year. AP said they tend to be older, less educated, less religious, minorities, and from rural areas. Nearly a third of men fit in that category of no-book-left-bedside, while a quarter of women did.

Avid bookworms, on the other hand, were the seniors and women. Among the readers, the median number of books read by women in the past year was nine, by men five. In a regional show of chart-topping literacy, 80 percent of the Midwest's residents had read a book in the past year, followed by 72 percent in the West.

The typical person read four books in the past year. But who knows how many books got started and set aside?

Poor Thomas Jefferson would lament the AP poll. "I cannot live without books," he said.

With 291,920 new U.S. titles and editions published last year, think of the smorgasbord the nonreaders missed. They must be sawing logs at just the thought of it.



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