One in Four Read No Books Last Year
Tuesday, August 21, 2007; 11:06 PM
WASHINGTON -- There it sits on your night stand, that book you've meant to read for who knows how long but haven't yet cracked open. Tonight, as you feel its stare from beneath that teetering pile of magazines, know one thing _ you are not alone.
One in four adults read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday. Of those who did read, women and older people were most avid, and religious works and popular fiction were the top choices.
The survey reveals a nation whose book readers, on the whole, can hardly be called ravenous. The typical person claimed to have read four books in the last year _ half read more and half read fewer. Excluding those who hadn't read any, the usual number read was seven.
"I just get sleepy when I read," said Richard Bustos of Dallas, a habit with which millions of Americans can doubtless identify. Bustos, a 34-year-old project manager for a telecommunications company, said he had not read any books in the last year and would rather spend time in his backyard pool.
That choice by Bustos and others is reflected in book sales, which have been flat in recent years and are expected to stay that way indefinitely. Analysts attribute the listlessness to competition from the Internet and other media, the unsteady economy and a well-established industry with limited opportunities for expansion.
When the Gallup Poll asked in 2005 how many books people had at least started _ a similar but not directly comparable question _ the typical answer was five. That was down from 10 in 1999, but close to the 1990 response of six.
In 2004, a National Endowment for the Arts report titled "Reading at Risk" found only 57 percent of American adults had read a book in 2002, a four percentage point drop in a decade. The study faulted television, movies and the Internet.
Who are the 27 percent of people the AP-Ipsos poll found hadn't read a single book this year? Nearly a third of men and a quarter of women fit that category. They tend to be older, less educated, lower income, minorities, from rural areas and less religious.
At the same time, book enthusiasts abound. Many in the survey reported reading dozens of books and said they couldn't do without them.
"I go into another world when I read," said Charlotte Fuller, 64, a retired nurse from Seminole, Fla., who said she read 70 books in the last year. "I read so many sometimes I get the stories mixed up."
Among those who said they had read books, the median figure _ with half reading more, half fewer _ was nine books for women and five for men. The figures also indicated that those with college degrees read the most, and people aged 50 and up read more than those who are younger.
Pollyann Baird, 84, a retired school librarian in Loveland, Colo., says J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter fantasy series is her favorite. But she has forced herself to not read the latest and final installment, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," because she has yet to file her income taxes this year due to an illness and worries that once she started the book, "I know I'd have to finish it."