In 2008, Steve Jobs predicted in the New York Times:
It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore, he said. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.
In fact, Jobs claim about why the Kindle book reader, among other similar products, would be a failure, seems to be supported by recent evidence that may have been at his disposal. As recently as 2007, a study done by the National Endowment of the Arts, found:
On average, Americans ages 15 to 24 spend almost two hours a day watching TV, and only seven minutes of their daily leisure time on reading. Reading scores for American adults of almost all education levels have deteriorated, notably among the best-educated groups.Â From 1992 to 2003, the percentage of adults with graduate school experience who were rated proficient in prose reading dropped by 10 points, a 20 percent rate of decline. In 2002, only 52 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24, the college years, read a book voluntarily, down from 59 percent in 1992.
The number of adults with bachelor’s degrees and “proficient in reading prose” dropped from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent in 2003.
However, a more recent study done in 2009, also by the NEA, shows these trends turning around for the first time in 25 years. The new study reported:
The proportion of adults reading some kind of so-called literary work “just over half” is still not as high as it was in 1982 or 1992, and the proportion of adults reading poetry and drama continued to decline. Nevertheless the proportion of overall literary reading increased among virtually all age groups, ethnic and demographic categories since 2002. It increased most dramatically among 18-to-24-year-olds, who had previously shown the most significant declines.
According to some this increase in reading is a direct result of the popularity of ebooks. Imagine that: because of technology and innovation, the reading of books has been made more portable and more affordable. And now, more people are reading.
Since then, Amazon has reported that Kindle Books now outsell both traditional hardbacks and paperbacks.
It seems Mr. Jobs prediction in 2008 was off.
Some might even say that Apple rolled out the popular iPad in the wake of the Amazon Kindle’s success.
However, there can be no doubt about Apple’s iBooks store a direct answer to the Kindle, indeed.
So, if reading is on the rise, readers need to be encouraged not only to read they also need to be encouraged what to read. Simply put: New readers need to be encouraged to read that which is great. And who better to decide what is great than the market itself? As the market for books can be seen as the generations of readers that have come before us, new readers would do well to focus on the works that both survived and thrived. In the world of fiction, (outside of the English majors) Harry Potter and the Twilight Series are about all people seem to talk about these days, good, or bad, as they both might be. It’s as if the pop culture flavor of the day appears to suit most people just fine. I hope that is not entirely accurate, but if so – so much is being missed.
The reading of great novels that have withstood the test of time should not be willfully discarded for the latest flash in the pan. The names of Jane Austen, Saul Bellow, Truman Capote, Anton Chekov, Charles Dickens, James Joyce, Larry McMurtry, Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth, Mark Twain, and Virginia Wolf should not be an enigma to the masses.
Ignoring some of these works of fiction would be kin to an economist being a great follower of Paul Krugman, Greg Mankiw, Robert Murphy, and Nouriel Roubini while having never considered anything that was written by John Maynard Keynes, Ludwig von Mises, David Ricardo, or Adam Smith.
New readers should know, and be excited to know, what William Faulkner, Booth Tarkington, and John Updike have in common. And for those of you that might still be wondering, William Faulkner, Booth Tarkington, and John Updike are the only people to have won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction more than once (called novel from 1917-1947).
Exploring readers should marvel the fact that Ernest Hemingway’s classic, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, was actually first published in the pages of Esquire, and that Truman Capote and Harper Lee were wonderful friends – C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien were friends too.
Don’t get it wrong. Some of the classics can be tedious. Some of the classics can be dry, even boring. And everyone likes the occasional easy-to-read-turn-your-brain-
It is not that readers should avoid books that are new. It is that a new and unproven book should not be exalted in complete disregard and ignorance of a book that is great.
So, go for it. And if you are a new reader, be encouraged. Pick up a good book and be taken by it. For heaven’s sake though, pick a good one.
Start with one the market has tested.