In 2004, about 28 percent of Americans age 15 and older read books for pleasure. In 2017, the number dropped to 19 percent, meaning the average reading time per person fell significantly, according to the Washington Post.
The America Time Use survey data showed that a there was a decline in leisure reading in adults age 35 to 44, but there was still a small decline in those reading in younger age groups.
The survey, conducted on 26,000 people in the U.S., showed a number of reasons that the decline is happening.
Between 2004 and 2017, while the percentage of readers was going down, the number of hours spent watching television rose to 2 hours and 45 minutes per day.
The idea that technology has impacted the reading done by people of all ages is shared by Plattsburgh State professor of English Anna Battigelli.
“There are many studies that suggest our internet addiction interferes with the concentration and focus we need in order to read complex texts,” Battigelli said. “Studies also tell us that reading requires practice in order to acquire and sustain concentration. Many of my students report that they enjoy reading again once they stop reading on digital devices.”
Also in agreement is Reference and Instruction Librarian Malina Thiede, who said that getting on one’s smartphone is something that’s quick and easy, providing a distraction from someone’s busy life and maybe from picking up a book.
However, the evolution of technology has brought forward audio books, e-books and other tools that allow people to listen to books.
“How people take in information can vary,” Thiede said. “Some people prefer to listen to audio instead of reading books for information.”
There are many reasons people who continue to read for their own pleasure do so. For example, Battigelli thinks individuals who are avid readers may see the act of reading and visualizing scenes from books in one’s own head as entertainment or even an escape.
“Those who read for pleasure have discovered that reading is a lifeline, a way of making sense of a world that is otherwise in chaos,” Battigelli said. “Reading provides order and wisdom as well as entertainment. It’s one of the best coping mechanisms I can think of. Reading beautiful sentences or clever narratives or hilarious scenes are true joys.”
Another reason may be how that person was brought up. Thiede believes that being raised in a family of other book lovers may promote an individual to become a reader in the future, for she was raised that way and she enjoys reading non-fiction books to this day.
“I think some people get into the habit and other people don’t,” Thiede said. “Some of those habits can be formed early in life.”
Both Thiede and Battigelli encourage those who wish to start reading for their own pleasure to go for it. Whether it be going to the Feinberg Library or the Public Library, finding a book that interests oneself can be as simple as reading a sentence or two.
“Start with what you love and stretch a bit,” Battigelli said. “If you love mystery books, read those but then consider older criminal narratives like Moll Flanders, or Sherlock Holmes mysteries, or short stories in general. Once you get hungry for more, go to a library or to a bookstore and spend an hour looking through first paragraphs until one grips you. It will happen, and suddenly life will make more sense.”