Why are Americans reading more literature?


If in fact they are — but so claims the National Endowment for the Arts.

For the first time in more than 25 years, American adults are reading more literature, according to a new study by the National Endowment for the Arts. Reading on the Rise documents a definitive increase in rates and numbers of American adults who read literature, with the biggest increases among young adults, ages 18-24. This new growth reverses two decades of downward trends cited previously in NEA reports such as Reading at Risk and To Read or Not To Read.

Why might this be? Several theories have been advanced, but as yet I haven’t heard anyone who shares my take.

I think what we may be seeing is the passing of the television generation to the internet generation. Notice that “the biggest increases [are] among young adults, ages 18-24.” Kids who grew up with television in the pre-internet era were passive consumers of mass pabulum that was designed to move products. They were, in effect, sedated by media in order to make them compliant consumers. Television discouraged reading.

What we are seeing now is a generation that grew up with the internet and electronic media. The internet is essentially an interactive medium. Even just surfing requires more active engagement than does changing channels on the tube. The essence of the internet, despite the popularity of images and video, is text. These people are used to reading — not sustained texts, unfortunately, but at least in short bursts. And they text each other.

Reading is reading. I believe the internet has nurtured a generation that is more inclined to read than were the coach potatoes that preceded them.


image from moriza’s photostream (modified to look better with this blog’s color palette)


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  1. I think that you are right although text messaging is responsible for some atrocious spelling and grammar. But I will believe that we’ve truly turned the corner when I see young people reading “real” books instead of graphic novels. Just call me the old cynic.


  2. I came over from paca’s blog – saw your comment on one of his newer posts.

    Good post here, and really interesting blog. I agree about the reading – my daughters are 16 and 20, and they are avid readers – books in print, and otherwise.

    I checked out your steps to publication list as well – I like your rule-following and the occasional insertion of a ‘don’t follow the rules’ bit of advice. That tracks for me.