Reading is in a decline, according to a survey by Pew Research. The NEA and Gallup polls have done similar surveys with the same results. I am reluctant to believe them, because I know so many bookish people. That said, the findings fit the dystopian gloom of the country.
Over the years I’ve known many ardent readers, but even more non-readers. In my experience, few people continue to read after college. The average English graduate immerses himself/herself in celebrity biographies and pop psychology, which I don’t call “reading.” And then on the opposite track are the brilliant writers who rarely read except for work.
If you’re reading this, you probably love reading. You are unlikely otherwise to make your way to Thornfield Hall, the manse of Mr. Rochester. If it’s been a while since you’ve read Jane Eyre, let me refresh your memory: Jane, a plain but exceptionally witty governess, fell in love with the Byronic hero, Mr. Rochester, who, it turned out, kept a mad wife in the attic. He liked to compartmentalize his women.
It was indeed very Gothic at Thornfield Hall.
Why do we women readers love Gothics so much?
We all know reading can be a thorny path. Non-readers misunderstand readers, especially us novel readers, because they consider us idle. Why don’t you get some fresh air? (Where is this fresh air, I often wonder.) Or, in a brutal relative’s words, “You’re a non-participant in life.” Now that was a blow.
Ah, the fresh air fiends. Sitting on the lawn looking at their phones. That’s magic, isn’t it? And then there are the lawn mowers, the chainsaw wielders, the leaf blowers, etc. The air is polluted.
Mind you, I spend a lot of time outdoors, though I always take a book along. I used to ride my bike 20-30 miles every weekend with my husband. One summer I lolled on benches during our breaks reading Constance Garnett’s translations of Turgenev on my Sony Reader. On a 90-degree day, I sat grouchily on a trail, reading Rudin and refusing to go on until my husband fetched Gatorade and power bars from a convenience store. These days, I take shorter rides with him, because I got tired of the filthy porta-potties along the way!
Dear Reader, I married a reader.For a short time, we even had a lunchtime book club. We alternated reading Joseph Conrad and Edith Wharton.
And recently we divvied up the 2019 Booker Prize winners: he thought Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other was just okay; I considered parts of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments brilliant, but I’m going to pass on whether it deserved the prize, since I didn’t reread The Handmaid’s Tale first.
And so reading is in a decline…or not. Surveys have a lot to tell us, but they may not be 100% true. In reading, women seem to have an advantage over men. According to Pew Research in 2019, women read more books than men. “The average woman read 14 books in the past 12 months, compared with the nine books read by the average man, a statistically significant difference. The median number of books read by women was five, compared with a median of three for men, which was not statistically significant.”
I guess that’s one up for us women, isn’t it?
It’s only a survey.
As Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”