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Do These Stats Alarm You?

The other day, I came across some statistics that, to me, are quite alarming. I wonder if anyone else finds them similarly alarming.

Those statistics concern the reading habits of Americans, both young and old, but they are especially relevant to the younger generations among the population. And, if true, they portend no good for the future of society.

Now I haven't done any research to verify the authenticity or accuracy of these statistics, but my experiences as a teacher and a writer (and a reader) tend to make me trust them. The precise figures cited might vary a bit, but I tend to trust the accuracy of the general tendency they seem to indicate.

The statistics were cited by an organization known as the Heinlein Society, a group dedicated to sharing and perpetuating interest in the writings of Robert Heinlein. I'm familiar with neither the organization nor the man, so I cannot recommend either with any knowledge, but a quick Google search revealed that he was a science fiction writer, so it's no wonder I didn't recognize his name: I don't read much fiction and no science fiction.

The Society reported that 33 percent of high school graduates never read another book the rest of their lives.

Let that sink in. Learning doesn't stop completely, of course, but think of how much less those kids are learning. Moreover, the Society reported that 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after they march. And the situation gets even worse when we consider that, according to the Society, 80 percent of families did not buy or read a book last year. These findings bother me, and I hope they bother you, too.

Continuing with its findings, the Society reported that 57 percent of new books are not read to completion. Even when people do read, they don't finish what they start.

Now we certainly must qualify that last statistic a bit. Over the years, I've realized that it's not always a rule of life that one has to finish a book once he or she has started it. It took me a while to learn that lesson, but when one considers how many good books are available and how little time one has in this life, why should we waste time reading bad books to the end when we could be using our time more wisely with one that is good? (That statistic might say more about the quality of the books being published today than about the readers who never finish the books.)

A similar qualification must be made for another statistic: 70 percent of adults have not visited a bookstore in the last five years. When one can buy almost any book online now, why would one spend a lot of time and gasoline going to a brick-and-mortar bookstore? The Covid lockdowns also no doubt played a part in that statistic. I must admit that I, too, have been ordering more books online rather than wasting time searching through shelves (or literally piles) of often poorly organized books trying to find that specific title I need.

But these statistics seem to be authenticated when one also considers how much time we spend doing other things: on our cell phones, at our computers, in front of the TV, and engaged in other non-reading activities.

But what can we do to reverse these dismal statistics? Like many problems of life, the beginning of the solution must be the home. Provide your children or grandchildren an abundance of good reading material in your home. Encourage them to read about a variety of subjects. Eventually, one or more will "click" with them, and off they'll go, pursuing a new-found interest.

Guide their reading by providing direction and purpose. At first they might not know what to read, so you can suggest some good books. Prioritize their activities to permit time for reading. Many kids today are so busy with school, sports, clubs, etc., that they don't have time or energy left to read. Help them make the time.

Participate in reading with (or, for younger kids, to) them. Nonreaders beget nonreaders, so set a good example by being a reader yourself. And let the kids see you reading and enjoying it.

And what better book could they begin learning to read that The Good Book--the Bible? Let them see you reading it! Read it to and with them. Pray that they will begin to read and benefit from it themselves.

I'm so thankful that my grandchildren are growing up to be readers. I hope they will continue to love reading and not stop once they're out of school. I hope they come to realize that their after-school lives are really just the beginning, their education having opened the doors to endless reading. I hope they'll become as familiar with their local libraries as they are with their own living rooms. They--and society--will be the beneficiaries.

As is reportedly inscribed in the children's reading room of the Hopkinton, Massachusetts, Library,

Books are keys to wisdom's treasure;
Books are gates to lands of pleasure;
Books are paths that upward lead;
Books are friends. Come, let us read.
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