Glass Half-Full

The New York TimesTimothy Egan isn’t listening to the doomsayers about the death of reading. Using Steve Jobs‘ dismissal of the Kindle as a launchpad, Egan points out that there are plenty of avid readers out there:

The more compelling statistic [in a 2007 Associated Press survey] was rarely mentioned in news accounts of the A.P. story: the survey found that another 27 percent of Americans had read 15 or more books a year. That report documents a national celebration.

Most companies would kill for a market like that – more than one-fourth of the world’s biggest consumer market buying 15 or more of its items a year. And half the population bought nearly 6 books a year. If only Apple were so lucky. The latest Harry Potter book sold 9 million copies in its first 24 hours – in English. “The DaVinci Code,” a story of ideas even with its wooden characters and absurd plotting, has sold more than 60 million copies.

Egan dismisses the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2004 literacy survey–which tracked an across-the-board decline in literary reading from 1982 to 2002–as “possibly erroneous,” though he doesn’t explain how. (A 2007 follow-up report found similar declines in all reading.) More problematically, he’s conflating literacy rates with market share–if it’s good news that there’s a solid proportion of Americans who read a lot, that doesn’t make an overall decline in reading any more appealing. Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos may indeed have a new world to conquer, but that’s not to say the country doesn’t have a reading problem.