This past summer, the National Endowment for the Arts published a report that spotlighted some very disturbing trends. The percentage of Americans over 18 years of age who read novels for pleasure (as opposed to reading them for school assignments or work) has dropped like a stone in the past couple of decades.
In a survey of approximately 17,000 Americans (a pretty hefty sampling), it was determined that in the previous 12-month period, almost 97% of respondents had watched, on average, at least one hour of television per day. Nearly half of the respondents (46%) watched three or more hours daily.
But a whopping 55% of American adults did not read a single novel -- or even a short story -- in that entire year.
Scary, isn't it? In 2005 you will devote more time to clipping your toenails than most Americans will spend reading fiction.
Maybe that's why it's so difficult to refrain from rolling my eyes whenever a fellow writer, eager for adulation, attends an event, either online or in real life, and then looks around and huffs, "But these people are all writers. I was led to believe this thing was for readers."
Come on. Writers are the very best readers. Not even counting our stacks of reference materials and our towering piles of how-to-get-published books, I bet writers buy more books than anybody. We're talking, after all, about people who fell so deeply in love with reading that they are now driven to contribute to the world's supply of printed matter.
I know I'm buying, borrowing, and stealing* a lot more books now than I was four years ago, when I first started writing. That's because common sense tells me not to expect a good performance out of my imagination if I'm not providing it with adequate nourishment. So now I'm reading genres and authors I never bothered with before, simply to broaden my horizions.
Writers don't just read, they read a lot. And soon, we may be the only readers left. So let's treat each other -- and especially the aspiring authors among us -- with a little more respect, all right?
*Only from close friends and relatives; nobody who's likely to press charges.