A new survey on Americans and their book-reading habits is like a half-filled glass of water: you can focus either on achievement or challenge. And, uniquely with books, the issue is one of depth.
There's plenty of positive news in the survey, conducted for a book industry group. More Americans are reading a lot: One-third say they read at least a book a week - twice the number of five years ago. Slightly more than half of Americans say they read at least an occasional book, the same as five years ago despite increasing pulls for people's time from other directions. (Past surveys have consistently shown that at any given time, 1 in 5 adults was in the midst of reading a book.)
Yet the new figures outline challenges. Young people are reading fewer books. So are adults who read only occasionally. Both points are something to think about this National Library Week - or any other.
Many people who read few books - or none at all - are reading other things: magazines, newspapers, technical journals. They are still learning in depth, although there is nothing like an informative, well-written book to deliver a thoughtful message.
Unfortunately, in our fast-paced society many people find it difficult, except on vacation, to pry enough time away from routine chores to peruse books, or even browse in them. In two-career families, mother and father often juggle four jobs: rearing children, running the house, plus the two careers. Book prices rise as costs do: Yesteryear's 75-cent paperback now costs $6.95 or more.
Also, each person must find his way of dealing with the ever-increasing pace of work in many different kinds of business. Sharing one's time and thoughts with children, spouse, and friends is important, rewarding, and joyful: It is also time spent not reading books. And there is everybody's favorite whipping boy: television, and the undemanding alternative it offers to reading and other mentally exacting tasks.
It can certainly be easier to make excuses than to make reading time. Yet time needs to be found, if less often than one might like, to share oneself with a book - and to immerse oneself more deeply in settings, or subjects, than today's superficial pop culture allows.