The Pew Research Center has released some interesting data. Maybe that is not the right word. Would dismaying or perturbing or saddening be a better choice? Their research reveals that last year 23% of Americans did not read a single book.
To an avid reader like me (maybe 3 books and several periodicals a week) that statistic is almost frightening since it indicates an upturn over the past 35 years: in 1978 that figure was 8%; in 1990 it was 16%. What an upturn. (All statistics are courtesy of THE WEEK of 2/7/14)
I know I am not a totally representative American. I can never be without something to read or I feel mentally deprived. Interestingly, I had dinner with 3 friends recently and, in the course of our conversation, we all revealed that we never leave home without something to read, either a magazine or a book or our Kindles, in our bags. As one of my fellow diners said: "Waiting is so different if you can focus on something besides the fact that you are waiting." To which I responded: "Yes!"
I know many people are busy reading their text messages. I imagine they too can be absorbing, but when I think of the friends I have met, the adventures I have had, the knowledge I have gleaned, all from reading, then I feel infinite pity for the 23% who have missed all that.
I have no way of knowing if that survey checked whether those non-readers of books read anything else. How do they check on world affairs and politics? Is it by the info-tainment that is often the nightly news? Have they never had a favorite author whose newest book always thrills by its very arrival?
They will never agonize with Jane Eyre; they might imagine that Dr. Watson has an actual practice; they will never see the dark side of Los Angeles with Harry Bosch... you can add to the list of fictional people who are almost real to us readers.
I weep for what they will never know, but I have no way to identify the non-readers of books whose paths cross mine. Instead, I delight in the readers I do see on the subway. I thrill to the fact that they are part of the 77% who discovered the joy and the power of a book!