OPINION | LET'S TALK: The USA no longer bookish – Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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Looks like those of us who read by flashlight under the covers back in the day are cracking fewer books now.
Fewer books than at any point since 1990, according to a new survey.
“According to Gallup, U.S. adults said they read an average of 12.6 books over the past year,” reports Alexandra Hutzler in “Americans Are Reading Fewer Books Than Before, College Grads Show Biggest Decline: Poll,” a story posted Jan. 10 at msn.com.
Hutzler points out that “that’s roughly three fewer books than what the same survey reported in 2016, and the smallest number Gallup has measured in more than three decades. The number of Americans reading more than 10 books per year dropped 8 percentage points between 2016 and last year.”
The biggest book-reading decline was among those of us who, yes, were forced to buy books — egregiously expensive textbooks, to be precise — and use them to cram for the exams that would ensure us our college degrees.
“Those who graduated from a college or a university read roughly six fewer books last year than they did in 2002 and 2016,” Hutzler writes. “Nearly half of college graduates read more than 10 books in a year between 2002 and 2016, but last year just 35% of [alumni] read that many books.” There was also a big drop in the number of Americans who listed reading as a favorite evening pastime … from 12% in 2016 to 6% in 2020.
I can believe book reading is on the decline among the college-educated … even while book acquisition among this group has remained constant. The msn story confirms the latter: The publishing industry reported that its 2020 sales were comparable to the previous five years, despite covid.
Years ago — either in conjunction with a story I was doing, or as part of my attempt to peddle a Junior League of Little Rock cookbook to which I was a contributor — I remember a handful of people telling me that they loved cookbooks, and not so much to cook out of them. They just enjoyed having them.
That’s sorta been the case with hubby Dre and me. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that we have so many books, they own us. But if you asked me how many of them we have read from cover to cover, you’d get a hem-and-haw response.
Our motley crew of books can be seen in multiple bookcases, under the coffee table and in other nooks and crannies in our condo — from Black culture and history to political commentaries and biographies to Christian guide books. Most are in mint condition; one, because Dre — who once worked as a library aide in college and never forgot the experience — won’t stand for marking up or dog-earing any book pages; two, because of our having too much book and not enough time/attention span.
We’ve got autographed books by authors we admire. We’ve got books by people we’ve interviewed for stories. We’ve got books about moments in history and elements of culture at which we intended to take closer looks. We’ve got books about famous people we like and books that are critical of famous people we dislike. We’ve got intriguing-sounding books that were brought to our attention by their authors when they gave commentaries on the news networks shows; these are books we hastily looked up on Amazon, often while the person was still speaking, and ordered later.
We also check out the books on the bookshelves that are usually backgrounding folks who give news-network-show commentaries, hollering out when we see they have one or more books that we have. Then I’ll wonder whether that person has read all those books or if they’re like us … bookstruck, but with no time to read.
Some might accuse us of simply keeping these books to have our company believe we’re these great intellects. But that’s not it … and we rarely entertain anyway. We really are lovers of books, which we both read prolifically as kids. Back then there weren’t so many competitors for book-reading attention. Now, jobs, chores and errand-running dominate the days, even taking pandemic-related homebody-ism into consideration. When it comes to any free time we may find ourselves with, the best of book-reading intentions somehow manage to fall prey to television watching, social-media newsfeed scrolling on the phone, or … simply nodding off from exhaustion.
Whenever we’ve moved, we’ve given away enough books to fill the ancient Library of Alexandria, and I gave some books to Goodwill not long ago. But shedding books has been like cutting off the heads of the mythical hydra … get rid of a book, a gaggle more seems to grow in its place.
I’ll periodically obtain a book that I actually read, like the book on intermittent fasting that I discussed in this space not long ago. But I sadly admit that the best nod I find myself giving to most of our collection of tomes is by way of browsing the dang things from time to time, as though I’m in a bookstore or at the local library. Peep the shelves and oooh and aaaah over what we have … titles such as “Tupac Sakur Legacy,” “Madame Bovary,” “Forced Into Glory” (about Abe Lincoln), “The War Within” (Bob Woodward’s books) and “A Tale of Two Cities” (Dickens!) I smile back at famous faces on book spines … Daisy Bates, Colin Powell, Magic Johnson.
I love you, books; truly I do. And as much as I’ve complained about you interfering with my interior-decorating efforts, I’d have a heckuva time deciding which of you to discard if we were forced to drastically reduce our collection of you.
But to sit down and read each of you, or at least 10 of you a year? There’s yet to be, to borrow from that famous “Twilight Zone” episode, time enough at last.
I’ll read your email, though: [email protected]

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