The National Endowment for the Arts has published another report decrying the decline of reading in the United States. It took a while for me to download the 98 page document, but I discovered that it was mostly statistics and appropriate commentary on things we already know. What was fascinating was the intro by Dana Goia, chairman of the NEA. Apparently readers make a difference in their world!
All of the data suggest how powerfully reading transforms the lives of individuals— whatever their social circumstances. Regular reading not only boosts the likelihood of an individual’s academic and economic success—facts that are not especially surprising—but it also seems to awaken a person’s social and civic sense. Reading correlates with almost every measurement of positive personal and social behavior surveyed. It is reassuring, though hardly amazing, that readers attend more concerts and theater than non-readers, but it is surprising that they exercise more and play more sports—no matter what their educational level. These cold statistics confirm something that most readers know but have mostly been reluctant to declare as fact— books change lives for the better.
To Read or Not to Read confirms—without any serious qualification—the central importance of reading for a prosperous, free society. These 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. (from page 6)
Now I’m wondering if WHAT we read matters. Would the readers of harlequin romances contribute as significantly to the culture as those who read the classics? I think you know my answer.