With Young Adult fantasy novels filling up our bookshelves – in large part because of my wife’s blog – I embarked on my first reading binge in memory.
I started with the last two Harry Potter books before moving on to The Golden Compass, Evil Genius and the three Last Apprentice books. Even though I was staying up late at night, I was shocked to find myself energized by the novels.
I started feeling better about myself and have been able to work through some personal issues I have been facing with Seth, careers and myself. Reading fiction not only recharged my batteries, but I felt smarter and more confident after finishing these books.
Can reading fiction really improve your life? Yes, says the National Endowment for the Arts, which just released its latest report on how reading – or lack thereof – impacts Americans.
If this study sounds familiar, it should. The NEA was criticized in 2004 for only counting traditional forms of novels, short stories, plays or poetry as a form of pleasure reading. Other reading, such as on the Internet, wasn’t counted.
Reading at Risk is an expansion of the 2004 study designed to silence the critics, but the news remains as bleak as three years ago.
As the chart at top indicates, non-required reading dropped across all age groups. Experts seem most concerned about those all-important college-age kids.
*Less than one-third of 13-year olds are daily readers.
*In 1984, 31 percent of 17-year-olds read every day for fun. In 2004, only 22 percent did.
*In 1982, 82 percent of college graduates read prose. By 2002, only 67 percent did.
*81 percent of employers find high school graduates are deficient in written communication.
*28 percent of employers find college graduates deficient in written communication.
Here’s how Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts sees the situation:
The story the data tell is simple, consistent, and alarming. Although there has been measurable progress in recent years in reading ability at the elementary school level, all progress appears to halt as children enter their teenage years. There is a general decline in reading among teenage and adult Americans. Most alarming, both reading ability and the habit of regular reading have greatly declined among college graduates. These negative trends have more than literary importance. As this report makes clear, the declines have demonstrable social, economic, cultural, and civic implications. …
To Read or Not To Read confirms – without any serious qualification – the central importance of reading for a prosperous, free society. The data here demonstrate that reading is an irreplaceable activity in developing productive and active adults as well as healthy communities. Whatever the benefits of newer electronic media, they provide no measurable substitute for the intellectual and personal development initiated and sustained by frequent reading.
All of this is horribly ironic when you consider the wonderful new books hitting the market. Many of the children’s picture books Anne receives in the mail are fantastic compared to the middling fare that was available during my formative years. The Young Adult fantasy tomes I’ve been reading also are top notch, if a little dark and violent. More importantly, these books are FUN to read.