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Readership Numbers…More or Less

According to the National Endowment for the Arts, there is a decline in reading despite the success of Harry Potter.

As The New York Times puts it in their article Harry Potter has a limited effect on reading habits:

…some researchers and educators say that the series, in the end, has not permanently tempted children to put down their Game Boys and curl up with a book instead. Some kids have found themselves daunted by the growing size of the books (“Sorcerer’s Stone” was 309 pages; “Deathly Hallows,” will be 784). Others say that Harry Potter does not have as much resonance as titles that more realistically reflect their daily lives. “The Harry Potter craze was a very positive thing for kids,” said Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, who has reviewed statistics from federal and private sources that consistently show that children read less as they age. “It got millions of kids to read a long and reasonably complex series of books. The trouble is that one Harry Potter novel every few years is not enough to reverse the decline in reading.”

David Mehegan at The Boston Globe also notes the NEA study:

“Reading scores and rates seem to be going up in the age 7-11 range,” NEA Chairman Dana Gioia said in an interview. “But when kids hit high school, all the social pressure takes them away from reading and you see an enormous fall, to a point where most kids are almost not reading at all. A quarter of all kids read for pleasure. Most of the others don’t. Because kids read less, they read less well. Because they read less well, they have lower levels of academic achievement. God bless Harry Potter, and please send us many more. But one book or series of books is not strong enough to counterbalance the trends.”

For reaction from the blogosphere, Paula Guran shares her views at the Dark Echo blog and Paul Raven has his at Velcro-City Tourist Board. Paul also notes the contradictory evidence that the Brits see no evidence in the decline of reading.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

10 Comments on Readership Numbers…More or Less

  1. joshua corning // July 12, 2007 at 2:21 am //

    Never really understood why a decline in fiction reading was really that big of loss.

    Believe it or not if you make a good horse carriage you can still make a buck.

  2. I started reading a lot more as I got older. When I was little, I had too much to distract me and I regret all of the time lost.

    Joshua, I hope you’re kidding – at least in part.

  3. Joshua…I don’t even know what to say to that! :O

  4. You can’t make a horse carriage if you can’t read. If you lack the literacy, then you lack a level of intelligence to follow through with a lot of things. This isn’t the turn of the 20th century, or the 18th century, where a large portion of a given population was illiterate. This is a different world than that. This is not a world of plow-shares and chain-gangs, a world of steam boats and, yes, horse carriages.

    We are closer to ancient Rome than we are to the world of a century before. Literacy is important, and not just in our leaders (who are, sadly, a long way from the literacy of someone like Winston Churchill)

    Without reading, we are the population working in slaughterhouses and picking up garbage, we are the superstitious and frightened ignorant who know that the world is round only when someone tells us, and who know what is good and right and what we believe only when told by those who are smarter than us. And if we cannot read (and, to extrapolate) then we cannot analyze and we cannot form our opinions, our morals, our system for living.

    Reading is VERY important.

    I also just don’t see it declining like they say. I think we’re just approaching a paradigm shift in how reading will work, and how stories will be told. I don’t believe we’ll lose reading in favor of watching television or playing video games. I think reading will just shift and alter and turn into something else.

    A lot of writers spend a lot of time being terribly afraid of the change in reading and writing, which I always find odd. I hear it a lot, and I would always expect the writers to be the ones who are ready and welcoming of change, though they are instead as immobile as sheet rock.

    Literacy ebbs and flows throughout history. It cannot do one without the other. Things change, but what of it? There will always be a need for stories. That’s good enough for me.

  5. Why exactly is reading a book a better activity than playing a video game or watching TV? I think sometimes we’re a little snobbish.

    Yes, you do use your imagination while reading, and it can often expand your vocabulary. But my kids learn all kinds of things from TV as well – some things I wish they didn’t learn, but that could happen with a book too. PBS, National Geographic, Animal Planet, and Discovery Channel all have interesting and cool things to watch for kids.

    Games teach all kinds of skills that I won’t go into here, but I wouldn’t automatically assume those have less value than those learned by reading either.

    My son recently read a book titled “The Scariest Stories You’ve Ever Heard” that I’m not sure had much redeeming value. I wouldn’t have minded if he spent that time playing a game or watching TV…

  6. Sorry but reading is important and I dare say it’s more important than watching TV and playing video games. Now reading does not require books since there is content available in a myriad of places and I also think that reading can include comic books. I grew up in a house that did not enforce reading and as an adult I find myself woefully under read when it comes to books. Therefore, I enforce reading time in my house and I don’t care if the book has “redeeming value” – it is about reading and comprehension for those days where my son is needed to read something that has redeeming value. Making reading part of a daily routine will help on this issue where reading times taper off as they get older – we are creatures of habit after all.

    Now back to my initial statement about reading being more important, does that mean I think watching TV and playing games is bad? No but much like eating they should be done in moderation. Anything in excess is bad and that means our children should learn there is time for play time (with real toys not some console), video game time, reading time, TV time and general do nothing time. There are a great many parents who do not enforce reading time and their kids play games and watch a lot of TV – which I think is sad. There is so much great stuff out there – better than you can find in a TV show or a video game that is only available via reading.

    Now to touch on Scott’s statement about learning, yes there are some great programs out there on those channels, but how many kids are watching that versus some crap off of Cartoon Network? I just think we should embrace literacy since without it there is little you can truly accomplish in this world…

  7. “Games teach all kinds of skills that I won’t go into here”

    Let me help out with those skilz, check out this Tripod video. The list you are looking for starts at around 2:16 in.


  8. Bob Hawkins // July 12, 2007 at 5:30 pm //

    The New York Times and the Boston Globe? Considering the way their readership has been declining, they might want to avoid this topic.

  9. joshua corning // July 12, 2007 at 6:48 pm //

    let me quote myself

    Never really understood why a decline in fiction reading was really that big of loss.

    The important modifier to reading is the word FICTION…see how reading fiction is different then reading in general.

    In fact I could probably spend a billion life times reading no-fiction.

    I realize that this is a sci fi blog and we all here enjoy reading fiction…specifically science fiction.

    But we do it for one reason…entertainment.

    Now that we have some better understanding of what i actually said lets look at the facts…

    We consumers of fiction are not in anyway have been harmed by declining fiction readers.

    Can anyone here say that the quality of Science Fiction has gone down along with declining readership?

    Can anyone here say that the quantity of science fiction reading materials has gone down with declining readership?

    unless you are insane or blind the answer to both questions is NO.

    again I say this:

    Never really understood why a decline in fiction reading was really that big of loss.

    Believe it or not if you make a good horse carriage you can still make a buck

  10. joshua corning // July 12, 2007 at 6:59 pm //

    other side note:

    Email, wow, instant message, blogs and the web

    For the most part this has contributed to greater literacy among youth not less.

    Better reading and better writing skills.

    One may argue that the language youth today with emotes and abbreviations and zmog, rofl are somehow destroying the english language. My response would be “Got over it, languages change”

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