After such early-’00s favorites as "Reading at Risk," which warned of an increasingly marginal status for the literary in America, the NEA is reportedly now releasing a report entitled "Reading on the Rise." The Washington Post:
For the first time since the NEA began surveying American reading habits in 1982 — and less than five years after it issued its famously gloomy "Reading at Risk" report — the percentage of American adults who report reading "novels, short stories, poems or plays" has risen instead of declining: from 46.7 percent in 2002 to 50.2 percent in 2008.
"Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy" is the triumphant headline on the new report. In a preface, outgoing NEA Chairman Dana Gioia called it a "turning point in recent American cultural history" and emphasized that "the most significant growth has been among young adults," the group previously showing the biggest reading declines.
Certainly good news, but a four-point uptick is certainly conclusive evidence of "turning point in recent American cultural history." We’ll have to wait for the actual report from the NEA, but I’d like to verify that the four percent change isn’t within the margin of error for both studies. And while a 4 percent increase is better than a 4 percent decline, both stats are still largely down from the 57 percent recorded in 1982, and even the 54 percent in 1992.
The New York Times is also reporting this story, with a little data from beneath the topline figures:
Among ethnic groups the latest report found that the proportion of literary reading increased most for what the study classifies as Hispanic Americans, rising to 31.9 percent in 2008 for adults 18 and over, from 26.5 percent in 2002. The highest percentage of literary reading was among whites, at 55.7 percent, up from 51.4 percent in 2002. The rate of literary reading among men 18 and older increased to 41.9 percent in 2008, from 37.6 percent in 2002. The proportion also increased among women, to 58 percent in 2008, from 55.1 percent in 2002.
At the same time the survey found that the proportion of adults who said they had read any kind of a book, fiction or nonfiction, that was not required for work or school actually declined slightly since 2002, to 54.3 percent from 56.6 percent.