Recent surveys have shown there was an uptick in readership over the pandemic. This suggests that there are some individuals who would read more if they had more time, and that it is mostly our pace of life that has impacted reading in the U.S. It is another reminder that we need to take time out to read if we want to maintain reading comprehension and gain the benefits of reading.
Overall, just under a quarter of the adult population (23 percent) are nonreaders. That is, they have not read a book in the past year. According to PEW surveys, this number has remained fairly consistent since 2014 and increased gradually since the 1970s. Most of these individuals have a lower income and education level – they make less than $30,000 per year and have not completed a college degree. Most are men, and they are slightly more likely to live in rural areas. Most analysts have blamed the large increase in nonreaders on the widespread availability of video media, which has been on the rise since 1970. Before the growth of the television market, it was much more common for all people to turn to books or newspapers to entertain or educate themselves. While many of these observations continue to hold true, there is another factor that has become evident in recent surveys.
According to surveys, there has been a significant increase in reading since the pandemic. Publisher’s Weekly reported that reading time increased by 21 percent, from 17 to 20 minutes per day on average. This was especially the case for readers under 34 and over 65 – young adults and the elderly. There was a 140 percent increase in reading time among Black Americans, with less than 25 percent increases among other groups. PEW analysis shows a 5 percent increase in those who read ebooks, and the Association of American Publishers reported a 16.5 percent increase in audio book downloads. In other words, while the overall percent of nonreaders has remained roughly the same, the amount of reading or listening to books actually increased over the pandemic, when more people were stuck at home. This suggests that, given more time, readers would in fact read more often. In short, the availability of time directly influences how often readers read. This suggests that our lifestyle plays a major role in our reading habits.
While the surveys don’t show why people read or what benefits they get, I’ve repeatedly discussed these in detail. Readers tend to be more well-rounded and informed. Reading news stories based on one or two sources provide a rather limited view of history or current events. Reading detailed articles and books provides multiple viewpoints and voices based on dozens of sources. Further, reading has certain spiritual benefits. It connects you with others as you understand people’s background and plights and as you share the same experiences. As I have repeatedly argued, fiction also provides people with a sense of escape that can provide healing, especially if the fiction includes supernatural elements that suggest powers beyond this world. People who read will tend to find rest that makes them calmer and better able to deal with reality rather than being escapists as some people argue. Reading helps build up our imaginations, which is what helps most people appreciate spiritual experiences. All of this is in addition to the fact that practicing the mechanics of reading helps make people better readers and more likely to read in the future.
What all of this shows is that more people would read if they had the time. There is, of course, a significant number of people who continue to prefer video or online information as opposed to books in printed or digital formats. Media has just made it easier for less literate people to get information from other sources. Nevertheless, many people would read more when given the chance. During the pandemic, they had this opportunity. Now that life is returning to normal, the constraints of time endemic to modern life will once again reduce time available for reading. If people want to receive the benefits of reading, they must take the time to read. They must turn off television and put down their phones more often in the evenings. They should try reading while eating breakfast or commuting instead of listening to news or music. They should set aside a half-hour or hour before bed to enjoy some quiet time with a good book. We can carve out the time in our busy lives if we choose to.
The question, of course, is whether we choose to make time for reading. I expect now that things have gone back go a post-pandemic normal that most people will put down their books and return to their busy schedules. Yet we can and should make time for reading. It is only then that we will gain the benefits that only reading can bring.
© 2022 J.D. Manders