Thursday, August 23, 2007

News Flash: People are ignernt.

I'm very fond of the observation that goes "You know how dumb the average person you meet is? Well, by definition, half of everybody is even dumber than him." Folks go so far out of their way to prove it true on a daily basis all around me that I find myself thinking I'm unable to be shocked by new evidence. And yet here we are:
One in four adults say they read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday.
I mean really. Not reading? Why? One of the guys they interviewed actually said "I just get sleepy when I read," which I guess was a less embarrassing admission than "I'm actually dumber than a bag of hammers."

It gets worse. Among those who admitted to having actually cracked a tome in the last year, the average number of books read was seven. In a whole year. How can you do that? How can you only read seven books in a year? In the past week I've read (or re-read) Shards of Honor and Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold and Threshold by CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan for entertainment; Crap Cars and The Action Hero's Handbook off the stack in the... er, reading room; I'm about a third of the way through Our Kind and a quarter through The National Pastime, both for edification; and I've read British Enfield Rifles, Vol. I and re-read The Mosin-Nagant Rifle and about half of Collecting Classic Bolt-Action Military Rifles for research. Even if I'd been pulling down the hours at the old job, the only difference in that list would have been that it would have contained one novel instead of three. You'll note that of those books, only three are completely fictional works read purely for enjoyment; the rest might actually learn me something. Not only have I been entertained, I also know a bit more about baseball, cultural anthropology, and old military rifles than I did this time last week, plus all the peripheral subjects touched on in those books.

The owner of a gun shop at which I worked a couple of years ago was, well, let's put it charitably: He wasn't what you'd call the intellectual type. His son got all the Harry Potter books as soon as they were released. He didn't actually read them, mind you, nor was he encouraged to, but at least when kids at school asked "Did you get the new Harry Potter book yet?" he could hold his head up and answer in the affirmative. One morning at a gun show, just before the show opened, my boss noticed me with my nose in a book and asked "Whatchoo doin' there? You a bookworm?" Not ten minutes later, someone strolled over to our tables and asked an obscure technical question. Without looking up, I piped up with the answer and my boss, completely without irony, asked "How do you know all that stuff?" I nearly bit my lip off choking back the cascade of smartass replies that sprang immediately to mind. "See the squiggly black marks between the covers here? They're a secret code that conveys information."

This, in a nutshell, is why folks don't read. We live in the Nation of the Jock, where the cult of the anti-intellectual has more adherents than the Southern Baptist denomination and where William Jennings Bryan was a viable political figure, where "book smart" is an insult delivered with a wink. We grow up in the soft electron glow of a TeeWee screen watching sitcoms and movies in which anyone with any brains at all is portrayed as a social misfit at best, a hopeless loser at worst. Mencken's "Sahara of the Bozart" has expanded north of the Mason-Dixon and engulfed the old Yankee domains, even bleeding across the Canadian border. There's no one thing to point a finger at; not the .gov education system, not TeeWee or movies, not the intarw3bz; it's all around us here, pervading our culture like some horrible brain-leech Matrix, and, like The Matrix, most folks just don't want to wake up. So what can you do? Me, I'll just continue to point and laugh.


Paha Kani said...

Seven books a year is perfectly doable. With two kids it's pretty hard to even keep seven books in a readable condition. Not counting the Winnie The Pooh and Moomin books, of course.

That and the one-click-ordering button from Amazon keep my pile of unread books at a considerable height.

Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago, I had occasion to visit the area where I grew up. In the last 10 years or so, it has become the area's poster child for blight. A mall that was the marvel of the region when it was built was now only half occupied and a hotbed of violent crime.

I took a stroll through to relive memories of my wasted youth and made an interesting observation:

Of the remaining shops there were eight jewelry stores, but not a single book store. Not so much as a magazine stand.

What's really alarming is that maybe half the people I know and interact with on a regular basis(friend-type people, that is) read very little if at all, and they are of above average intelligence!


Hobie said...

What a wonderful diatribe!

You know, my wife (a reading teacher) is upset by a couple of things in our family. #1 is that I'm not reading a book a night but am down to about 1 a month or so (I can't find anything that interests me and I'm busy with my mother) and #2 my mother (a "former" librarian) has a short term memory that really inhibits her ability to read.

I also know many folks who never, ever, read even a magazine in a waiting room. No wonder 2/3s of the US population has no knowledge of what's up outside our borders.

Jay G said...


You just summed up why I spent the first 25 years of my life "playing dumb".

Being smart (and small) got my ass kicked on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis.

Not a lot of incentive to excel when it only brings pain. Literally.

Pokerwolf said...

While I understand how not reading books is a bad thing (I've memorized my library card number, how about you?) I have to wonder how many of those people read blogs?

Is it the same? No, not really. But, nobody can deny that the Interblag is a large resource for information that tons of people use every day.

Cybrludite said...

"You know how dumb the average person you meet is? Well, by definition, half of everybody is even dumber than him."

And this, boys & girls, is why folks who work tech support drink heavily...

Anonymous said...

Well said. I admit I don't read as much as I used to, and I certainly don't match your pace. I used to average about 1.5 books a week (fiction or otherwise). These days I manage about 2 to 3 a month.

My friends kid me about my security blanket. No matter where I am there's a book with me, even if I know for certain there's no way I'll have time to read.

7.62x54r said...

I used to read a lot more books than I do now. I doubt my "word count" has gone down though. They're just electrons instead of ink. I'm sure I still read more than 7 books a year although I haven't kept count. There's also a big difference in romance novels and classic literature or technical reference books. I'm not going to lose any sleep if I don't finish "War and Peace", "Cartridges of the World", or "The Spanish Civil War" in one night. Reading is easy, it's the understanding that takes intelligence and dedication.

Canthros said...

Leaving aside the magazine subscription I neglect, and the blogs, web fora, and assorted garbage I read on the Internet, the big reason I haven't read many books on my own time is that I've just been busy doing other things. Less a lack of interest than a lack of time or time management skills.

In point of fact, I think the last time I had time to sit down and read to my heart's content, I was unemployed.

Tam said...

It will jack up your books/week rate, that's for sure.

I'm not really unemployed, though. I'm self-unemployed. I can do this because I'm independently poor.

Bonnie said...

I read and re-read as many books as I can. I know I've read more than 50 books in a single year before. The past couple of years, though? I have trouble making the time to read books that are for my school assignments, because I've got so much else going on that's school- and work-related. And it makes me sad.

I just bought 4 books from Borders a few weeks ago...I've read one, and am almost done with another. I have about 30 minutes that I set aside right before I go to bed to read. It's all I can do. But it's obviously more than some people.

For your statistics, though, I know someone who's scarily intelligent, but he's SO mechanically-minded that it takes him over a month of steadily reading for an hour a day to finish half of a book that takes me 4 hours tops. Sometimes people don't read because they want to but are thwarted by their lack of reading skills (and I don't mean lack of understanding words...they just read really slowly because their brain doesn't process it as quickly as others). This person reads the news every day, keeps up with blogs, etc, and can do that as long as the stuff in question isn't too long. He tries, at least.

One last thing before this turns into a blog entry: I was picked on mercilessly for being a bookworm growing up, and all it did was make me want to read more. I realized that the people making fun of me were dumb as toast, and I didn't want to end up like that.

Anonymous said...

"We live in the Nation of the Jock"

Bad high school experiences?

Try more like Nation of the Couch Potato. But yeah, I absolutely agree with what you're saying.

And jay g, how exactly does being smart get one's ass kicked? I tested out at the genius level and never caught hell from anyone...though I also noticed those that were catching it had attitudes that didn't sit well with others, or were pusillanimous to the point of eliciting a "blood in the water" response.

Tam said...

"Try more like Nation of the Couch Potato."

Okay, 'Nation of the Couch Potato That Worships the Jock'... ;)

Actually, "Nation of the Anti-Intellectual" would be most correct.

The Duck said...

Well that's why they are so easy to sway, by what they are told on the news etc.
Their bodies are not the only couch potatos, the minds are lazy to.
they believe they will get all they need from ABC CBS NBC

Weetabix said...

I have my own business, 4 kids (9yrs - 15yrs), and we home school, but I still read more than 7 books per year.

I don't have any set goals, but I'm happiest if I can get in one per week.

Jay G said...


"And jay g, how exactly does being smart get one's ass kicked?"

You apparently missed the part about "and small". Getting straight A's makes the other kids feel dumb. When they feel dumb, they lash out at the "smart kid".

Especially when the smart kid is a year younger and much smaller target.

Your experience is different than mine. Good for you. I spent my entire elementary and middle school career trying to melt into the floor so as not to be seen.

People, and their anecdotal experience, are different. I see no reason to cast aspersions as to my actions at the time just because you had a better time as a smart kid...

Anonymous said...

I read about 6-8 fiction/nonfiction/bio/tech books a month plus the various gun rags, wood/metal working journals, papers and don't even get me started on how much web stuff I absorb. Plus what ever catches my interests at the time.

I've always been a "bookworm" and proud of it. I too got a lot of gruff growing up over my reading. ("Damn! You read too much!")
I'm proud to say that I was able to encourage my children to read and that they all grew up to be profolic readers also. All you have to do, to get them started, is to provide them with books on whatever subjects that they're interested in.(sports, hobbies, etc..) They'll set the hook themselves.

Just last night, I was reading in the breakroom during lunch and a couple of coworkers asked me how do I read so much :-p
One actualy said "Reading just makes me sleepy". (I've heard that from boxes of rocks,..I mean people, all my life. It's like a really lame cliche.)

Jeez! The only way I can respond to that is to shrug, give a sad smile and go back to my reading.

Sorry to run on like this. Ya just hit a sore spot.


breda said...

(edited and reposted)

I saw that headline and didn't even bother to read the article because not one bit of it came as a surprise. As a reference librarian, I spend more time helping people on the computer and locating the newest DVD releases for them than finding them any sort of reading material. People don't even know the difference between fiction and non-fiction anymore. Hell, I'm lucky if anyone under the age of 16 is able to read an analog clock when they're signing up to use a computer. And schools are assigning JAMES PATTERSON as summer reading assignments. James Patterson doesn't even WRITE his own books anymore! Gone are the days where kids would at least dabble in the classics because school told them to...

I'm cutting this rant short. I don't want to ruin my day off.

Anonymous said...

Jay G said...
You apparently missed the part about "and small".

Nope, sure didn't. I was one of the smallest guys in my class (hell, I might have been the smallest). On the field I was always the smallest of the starters, and most likely one of the smallest on either team's entire roster (yet I played middle linebacker. go figure).

"Getting straight A's makes the other kids feel dumb."

Sorry, but I disagree with were that's going. When I pulled A's I found others would come to me for help. Hell, not just to me, but to others that got A's (even the younger ones). Often a joke was thrown our way first to help them with their nervousness at asking for help (teenagers, after all). Not all of the ones that got A's were sought out, mind you. Again, attitude was key. Those that tried to use their A's as a weapon, a field leveler (even if it was on the subconscious level), if you will, got picked on.

"I see no reason to cast aspersions as to my actions at the time just because you had a better time as a smart kid... "

Indeed, though might I point out that there's no reason to get defensive over it. You're a grown man, put the past to rest.

Tam said...

Okay, 'Nation of the Couch Potato That Worships the Jock'... ;)

Actually, "Nation of the Anti-Intellectual" would be most correct.

Damn straight on both accounts, when you get right down to it. Momma and daddy busting their asses to get a roof over your (generic "you") head and food on the table? Screw them, their idiots. A three time felon that can run a 4.3 and hits like a freight train? Now there's you somebody to look up to. Bah.

Anonymous said...

Damn. Proofreading is apparently for pussies and the non-ignernt.

Anonymous said...

Of course, the other earth-shattering statistical news yesterday was that 25% of 75-to-85-year-olds are still sexually active.

The moral of the story, I guess, being that at any given time, a quarter of us are doing something unfathomable.

Anonymous said...

"Say, did you see (insert TV reference here)."
"Nope. Don't have cable."
"Nope. Rabbit ears."
"Rabbit ears? What is there to watch that way?"
"Not much."
"So, what do you do?"
"Read," pointing to the stack of books on the coffee table.

I wear out a library card a year, and Amazon has an automatic homing device that gets boxes to my front door. Between those and the intarw3b, what else would I need?

BTW, Tam, the "secret code" line is great, and I'm stealing it.

Anonymous said...

I work as an engineer (large aerospace company in the NW). The building I'm sitting in has _more_ than 2000 engineers and techs in it. Sadly, your article wouldn't have been far off if it had been about this office.

Possessing above average intelligence (_most_ of the people I work with do) is not sufficient to over the problems you lay out.

Anonymous said...

I basically don't read books. Technical manuals and such are fairly easy for me to read, but I don't count those.

Here are some reasons for this:
1.) I'm a very slow reader. It would take me 2-3 days of constant reading to finish a 400 page novel. This is with full comprehension. If I speed up, I lose comprehension.

2.) I'm a packrat. When I own something, I have to own it forever. With books, this can take up a lot of space and be a mess to manage.

3.) High school English class. If anything will kill a person's love of reading, it is the public education system. I had no problem reading as a child, but once the English Teachers were done with me, I was burned out. This has also caused a mild paper-phobia in me.

I am planning to get back into reading using an e-book device. I'll raid Project Gutenberg for material.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: It might vary with the neighborhood. As an undersized prodigy, I ran into plenty of people who resented me being smarter than them, especially in grade school - starting with many of the teachers. Yes, in America anti-intellectualism starts with the typical education school intake...

OTOH, I discovered that the tough white trash kid that everyone was afraid of loved to play chess. And could honestly beat me 2 out of 3 games. Most anybody could have beat me up, but my friend would have been waiting for them on their way home.

NotClauswitz said...

I read a lot more periodicals than books these days. I used to read seven books a week or more, but my interest in fiction peaked about in College - and then was hammered into oblivion by the literature of misanthropic post-modernists and Seinfeld-like characters.
After working in a corner of the publishing industry - before and after 9/11 - with a bunch of Left Coast ultra Hip and With-It super Liberals (including high-level connections to the Dem Central Committee), I saw the abyss and heard the first "It's Our Fault" within a day.
I rightly or wrongly concluded that the major material feed (and fizzy kool-aid) they grazed upon didn't have that much nutritional value anyway - not as much as brass, copper and lead and H4895 anyhow, so I entered a more active period of my life. The last couple books I've read have been auto-bios or along entirely different lines than the introspection I used to enjoy.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Jay G. on this one. Got beat up cause I was a small smart kid. And I wanted to be smart more than I wanted to be popular.

I wasn't snotty about it, either.

Now I'm a very well-paid optical engineer, and my home will always have a library.

Anonymous said...

You might want to "check out" they are doing what netflix did with DVDs for books.

Cybrludite said...


You should hear my niece's reaction to the fact that I don't even own a TV. "But... Uncle Bubba, what do you do with no TV?" while looking at me like I had three arms and two heads. Gah!

Anonymous said...

Starting around 4th-6th grade, 2 books a day, more on weekends. not counting magazines and other reading material. I would read anywhere and everywhere, including on the back of a friends Norton, after mine had to be shipped home to NJ from FL with a bad main bearing.
Only known one other person who read as much.
Teachers soon learned to ignore my presence in classes (except to rant about lack of homework-never did it). Discovering I read the entire textbook the first week of class put them off their stride. That, and observing the book(s) I had with me, and that they seldom showed up a second day.

Never realized my father read anything but the newspaper, until many years later. Found his home full of books and magazines. Seems most(all?) of us in the family with ADD became voracious readers. Don't know if there is a connection.
For some reason, I seem to read slower than before, very annoying.

Learned more from my reading habit than I did from school.

Andrew said...

I've always had the reading disease pretty bad. My "library" is bursting at the seams, and there are few books that I own that I haven't read three or more times.

Still, there is hope for our nation.

I work in a medium-sized company in the Midwest. We have 65 employees, plus summer college interns and high-school summer temps.

Much of the work is not incredibly intellectually demanding: some open envelopes, many do data entry and take customer service calls, and a few do more analytical and organizational tasks.

The break room always has between half a dozen and a dozen novels laying around -- nothing too highbrow, but not many Harlequin romances, either -- as well as the daily paper and a selection of national magazines.

It's not unusual for me to walk in to grab a soda and find one to half a dozen people there, quietly reading as they take their breaks or lunches. And the readers comprise a representative sample of our workforce: 16 to 60 years old.

Maybe it's simply the white-collar environment; I never saw this when I worked in retail or blue-collar environments.

Last month, I saw a dozen copies of the new Harry Potter book sitting on people's desks. I had to hold my tongue, `cause I finished it the day before it was released. :)

Anonymous said...

olvjeAnd here I am; I chose not to take up a 50-book-log challenge because it wasn't (a challenge, I mean). I literally don't know how many books I read in a year; I can only guess at the number of books I read a week - it's usually more than one.

Baen's free library and webscriptions, along with a PDA, have been a godsend for me. And I'll second the ADD reader thing, as well.