Monday, July 19, 2010


This question came about awhile back when I participated in a group signing of authors from a local writing organization at a local town fair. The town, which will remain nameless, is an affluent commuter suburb. Many of the residents work in Manhattan; most have at least an undergraduate degree. So I was dumbstruck when a certain percentage of the adults who stopped by our table and were asked if they’d like to read a good book, answered with, “I don’t read.”

They DON’T READ? EVER? I’d expect an answer like that from a surly teenager plugged simultaneously into his Game Boy and Ipod. But college educated adults living in an upscale community? All right, maybe they meant they don’t read any of the genres represented by those of us participating that day. I can accept that as much as I’d wish otherwise. But that wasn’t the case. Neither was it that they only read non-fiction (although a few did admit to that with an air that spoke without a doubt that fiction -- any fiction -- was beneath them.) No, most who admitted not reading meant THEY DON’T READ. As in NOTHING. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Not books. Not magazines. Not newspapers.

And what amazed me the most was that they admitted this to total strangers! I’d think that any adult who didn’t read would keep that admission buried deep underneath the widescreen TV, not voice it with a sense of pride. But no, they looked down their noses, their voices filled with disdain, as they proclaimed, “I DON’T READ.” As if reading were a bad thing, something to be avoided at all costs. As if we authors were the enemy, trying to infect them with printed and bound versions of some lethal strain of bird flu.

Now the truth is that we had quite a successful day, selling dozens of books and passing out promotional literature for our writing organization to many interested people. I’m not complaining. Just mystified by the responses of some who wandered past our table. My fellow authors felt likewise. None of us could possibly imagine living a life devoid of the pleasures of the written word.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago. I’ve been hearing for some time now that publishing is in its final death throes, and the new generation of e-readers (Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc.) is the final nail in the coffin of printed and bound books. I don’t know what the future will bring in the way we receive and read books and magazines. We’ve been taking some huge virtual leaps into Star Trek-like realms lately. I do believe, though, that publishing will survive. I know this because of a conversation I had recently with a member of Generation Y.

I was in an Apple store, drooling over an iPad. Yes, I want one. I’ve already sent Santa my list for this year, and it only has one item on it. I was playing around with an iPad when one of the Apple Geniuses came up to me and asked if he could show me anything. We began to talk about reading books on the iPad. This kid, who couldn’t have been more than 19 or 20, admitted to me that prior to buying his iPad, he NEVER read books, other than those he had to read for school (and even then, he often resorted to the Cliff Notes versions.) Since getting his iPad, he’s reading an average of 2 to 3 books a WEEK!

The author in me was about to break out in the Happy Dance right there on the floor of the Apple store. I wanted to send Steve Jobs a thank-you balloon bouquet. If one Gen Y has discovered the joys of reading, thanks to new technology, I’m sure many more will follow. No matter what those Cretans at the street fair said, the rumors of the death of the written word are greatly exaggerated.


Dru said...

I read. I love to read and it scares me when I have books to give away, that I can't give to my friends or coworkers because they don't read.

If the iPad can introduce their users to read a book, that is a good thing. I don't think the printed books will go away, there just won't be too many of them published.

pps..I want an iPad too.

Anonymous said...

People often issue such provocative statements with certainty and pride, mistaking our shock as evidence that they are clever.

I, too, love to read. Reading saved my life as a young child, releasing me me from a world that was insular, boring and bitter.

As a side note, I'm equally incredulous when people proudly insist that they don't follow the news - that it's too negative. A civilized society requires an informed citizenry, including the news that may not please us. With rapid globalization, spurred on by instant communication, this is more true than ever before.

Thank you, Lois, for writing about this!

Candace said...

I learned the same thing when I was doing book signings. I was shocked. This was a sub-group I had no idea existed. Not only did they make this statement with a certain amount of condescension but also with a note of glee, as if they were free from the burden we felt of having to read (let alone write, for heaven's sake!)

For several years after finishing grad school, my husband didn't read anything he didn't have to because he was burned out, he said. Now he burns through fiction at a somewhat alarming rate, so I know people can recover from this affliction!

Thanks for bringing this to everyone's attention. Perhaps if we can each gently prod some non-reader back to the fold a little at a time, we can make a difference.


Mary said...

I've met teachers who say they don't read unless they have to. In view of that, the fact that the kids I deal with are learning to love books is amazing.

Some sort of e-reader is on my list but not sure which yet.

Giggles and Guns

G.M. Malliet said...

People who don't read, even the news? I don't get it. When you consider that not that long ago being taught to read was only for the wealthy, the white, and the male. To not exercise the privilege of being allowed to read...that just boggles the mind.

I guess people who can't be bothered to vote fall into the same category.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I know a lot of educated people who would claim they "don't read." Even some of the attorneys at my firm. I believe it is because of burn out. They do read - all day, in fact. So reading for pleasure, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, becomes just another chore.

I had a long conversation with a friend about books this weekend. We both agree that e-books and electronic readers are here to stay and are introducing books to a whole new generation and to those who thought carry around a book was inconvenient. We also agreed that the printed book will survive and flourish. And as long as people commute and exercise, so will the audio book. Books are just being spun off into other options for different lifestyles.

Lois Winston said...

I've also come across people who claim not to read or watch the news, and that boggles my mind as well. What I think is worse, though, are people who only get their news from watching or listening to an assortment of biased pundits who cloak their vitriol as news. They twist facts to suit their own agenda, and too many people are buying into it as truths. It's very scary and too reminiscent of what happened in Germany prior to WW2.

Mark said...

People with that attitude always shock me. I can't imagine not reading. There was a year or so right out of college where I wasn't reading much or reading quickly, but I always had a book going even if I only read a couple of pages a day.

And I always feel like I have to defend myself to those who only read non-fiction. I read fiction for pleasure, thank you very much. The non-fiction only people are the ones who seem like snobs to me, but maybe it's just the ones I have run across.

Anyway, I think Mark Twain said it best. (At least I think this is a Twain quote.) "He who won't read has no advantage over those who can't."

Kalayna Price said...

I found the same thing to be true when I worked at a bookstore. It frightened me how many parents came into the store to buy their kids' required school reading, but when asked if I could help them find anything else they would proudly proclaim "Oh, I don't read." Not in the least bit ironically, these were the same people who complained about the price of books (and many of our school reading titles were only 4.95), wanted cliff notes because their child only had a couple days left before school started and they wouldn't finish the book in that time, or wanted 'translated' versions of Shakespeare/Poe/other works written in English.

R.A said...

I never cease to be amazed by people who say they don't read. I sort of feel sorry for them. They don't know what they're missing.

I can appreciate being burnt out from school or maybe scarred from school reading(They make school kids reading some really depressing stuff).

When I was in school I used to do some pleasure reading between required readings to refresh cleanse the palette so to speak since some of the classics were more work then a pleasure to read.

Still, anything that gets people reading is good in my opinion. I have heard other comments about people, particularly the younger crew, that iare reading more because of all the cool devices that they can read on.

I'm also coveting the iPad, Lois.

Attacking the Page
R.A. Vaughn

Darrell James said...

Lois- When I was a kid I had this incredible fear that the world would run out of music (as in: they would use up all the notes and there wouldn't be any notes left to play.)

Later that transformed into a fear that all the words would get used up and there would be no more books. (I was a little misguided.)

I don't know where the world is headed. Maybe if we just keep writing, someone will keep reading-- a kind of "build it and they will come" outlook.

Lois Winston said...

Not a bad philosophy, Darrell. Let's hope it works.

Patty said...

"I cannot live without books" - Thomas Jefferson.

I have this on a t-shirt and a bookmark.

Having run into people who say the same thing I've noticed they are often "bored". Me, I'm never bored, I can always find a good book because I know I often don't find things to entertain me on 100+ channels and dozens of DVD's.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

To me, nothing beats a book, but if an ipad can introduce books to a new generation (or an old generation that's given up reading), I'm all for it!

Sarah G said...

People who don't read creep me out. Of course, the first folks I met like this were the in-laws...

I get hacked off with that same attitude about voting... treating it like it's a bad thing.

Word Actress said...

I was at a book signing yesterday in a small coastal Northern California town. The bookstore is one of California's oldest and has had to downsize to that of a large kitchen in a McMansion b/c people just aren't supporting small bookstores. Even my friend who was promoting her latest book of poetry says she either uses libraries these days or Amazon. It's pretty frightening. We were also talking about Kindle and how all our books s/b in that format if we expect to have readers of our work.

I admit I don't get the I DON'T READ comments but I realize we are living in the dumbing down phase of life with all the ridiculous reality shows that plague TV these days. I think a recent survey said most kids these days when asked what they want to be when they grow up want to be famous. When asked famous for what, they have no idea!!! I go gaga when I talk to my friend's teenagers and one of them says he or she loves to read. We do have to embrace technology, although I will always long to hold a book in my hands and stare at the lovely cover.
But I am sure I am in the minority...thanks for the post...Mary Kennedy Eastham, Author, The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget and the upcoming novel Night Surfing

J Hali said...

I have nephews and nieces who all use their iPhones, blackberrys and other hand-held devices to read. They prefer them to paper/hardback books! Yay!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Most people who love to read were introduced to books early. If you know some young people who are being neglected in this realm, see what you can do!

Movies survived TV. I think books will survive also...and I agree that the most important thing is to get stories out there, in whatever format works.

Penelope Marzec said...

I have met many people who admit they don't read--and not only when I am at a booksigning. Some friends and relatives never pick up books. They are "too busy."

But they have time to watch endless hours of television or play video games.

Everyone has a choice. Unfortunately, some people never got hooked on reading and so they have simply abandoned it. Perhaps that is because they were forced to read dreadfully boring books when they were young. Perhaps it is because reading was never fostered as an activity in their home.

Perhaps they never got a book in their hands that really excited them.

Feel sorry for them. Look at them with pity. Then get excited and tell them about the book you just read--or wrote.

Enthusiasm can be contagious. :^)

P.S. I own an eBookwise and a Nook. I love them both.