Can these numbers be right?

In December of 2011, I heard a story on National Public Radio (also known as NPR) about the average number of books Americans read annually.  The commentator said that Americans read 20 books per year.

Can that be right?  Do we Americans read only 20 books per year?

I know that everyone is busy and has a lot of things going on in their lives.  I get that.  We all work unbelievably long hours and have very little free time.  So add to that our family obligations, as well as those that we assume in order to contribute to society, like volunteering, religious attendance and functions and the like, and the time we can spend reading drops.  Dramatically.

Even so, 20 books a year?  I double checked and saw that librarian organization studies show the numbers to be slightly larger, about 25 books per year and those studies are newer than the NPR report.  But still, 20-25 books per year?  I couldn’t find that study when I just looked, but just found a fairly recent Pew Research Center study, published in January 2014, which might be more accurate.  That study says the average American reads 12 books per year.

12 books per year.


Are we really falling that short in terms of reading?  What accounts for that low number?  Is it the busy-ness in our lives?  Are too many of us sitting in front of the television or playing video games, and/or surfing the ‘net instead of reading?  Can it be that physical fitness efforts eat into that time too?

Whatever the reason, we do need to change the trend away from not reading.  The NPR story made me examine my reading habits; I couldn’t believe the number at large was that small and I wanted to see what my personal total was.

What I’ve done since isn’t really a fair comparison, as I have made a conscious decision to read more when I have time.  I don’t watch as much TV, nor do I play on the ‘net nearly as much as I used to.  I have an annual goal of reading 100 books and have hit that number once, come close once, missed wildly last year following major surgery, and am on pace to come very close yet again.  In my defense, last year when I missed wildly, physical activity was prescribed and that ate into my spare time.  That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.


All this to say, I’m not trying to be a snob or anything about reading habits.  I read a lot because I don’t have a lot of outside demands on my time.  I know that.  But I’d like to see other people read more than they currently do.  We know, for example, that children whose parents read are more likely to become readers and also will have higher educational attainment (both grades and formal education levels, like college graduation).  I’m sure that similar effects can be drawn for the parents themselves who read, though I don’t specifically know of studies that show that. Maybe they’re better employees, earn more, have more promotions; I don’t know. That would be a good study to do if it hasn’t already been done.

What’s my point?  My point is simply this: I challenge everyone out there to make a conscious decision to read more.  Try to read more this coming year than you did this year or last.  Keep track and write some thoughts on the books – you might even write some book reviews and post them on your own blog (which is what I’ve been doing).  I challenge each and every one reading this to read more than 25 books this next year.  It doesn’t matter what kinds of books you read, whether fiction or non-fiction, thrillers or romance novels, 700 page books or 150 page books.  Read, read, read.  Read what you enjoy.  Life’s too short to read crappy books.

Let me know how you’re doing and I’ll let you know how I’m doing.  Deal?


About flatpickingjd

Just your average, liberal vegetarian redneck. Yes, I'm a liberal. Proudly so. I see nothing wrong with that and wear that label with pride. Yes, I'm a vegetarian. I used to be fat, very fat. Then I started taking care of myself, lost a bunch of weight and found it easier to keep that weight off by not eating meat. Or cheese. Or eggs. Or any good stuff. Man, I miss pizza. And, yes, I'm a redneck. I like camping and fishing, listen to bluegrass music and live (from time to time) in the south(west). So, yup, I'm just your average, liberal vegetarian redneck. Serious details about me: I make my living as a lawyer. My practice focus is business law, but I've dabbled in other areas including personal injury, family law, real estate, and water law. I also hold three master's degrees with plans to earn a doctorate. I hope you enjoy your time here, and feel free to comment!
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