But now come some numbers that I think might add a bit of an upbeat. The source of those numbers—the Pew Research Center—considers them relatively dismal, but I think its expectancies were simply too high.
• How many American adults have read a book in the past year? Considering all the faces around me stuck in screens of one size or another, I might have guessed maybe 50 to 60 percent; Pew says it’s 75%.
• How many people read a book every month? Pew says 28 percent have read eleven books or more in the past year. Pretty close to one a month. (But where are they all? Glued to Kindles under the covers?)
• People with at least some college have read an average of five books in the past year. And the average 18-to-29-year-old—a cohort that’s almost always read less than older groups—still finishes nine books a year.
• And (most encouraging of all) according to the National Endowment for the Arts, the number of 18-to-24-year-olds who’ve read a book outside of work or school is unchanged since the antediluvian days before the Creation of Facebook, at 52 percent.
So those are some numbers. While I can’t quite say they make me Pollyanna in rose-colored glasses, they sure don’t enlist me in the doom-and-gloom brigade either.
I’d guess that the lure of a good story probably remains the same as it was when the first Cro-Magnon hunter regaled the campfire crowd with his latest escape from the grim reaper in saber-tooth guise.
The story has never been the problem. The problem, if we choose to view it in those terms, is all the other story-tellers out there struggling to regale the same caveman ears—or eyeballs in their modern update. But, counter to the delivered wisdom from some quarters, at least the prize we’re all fighting for doesn’t really seem to be vanishing before our eyes.