How many people read novels

Deliberately living (well, working) in the world of picture books you can usually bet on at least someone reading your book. At 600 to 800 words it actually takes more time to not read a picture book than pick one up and read it.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been curiously asking people I know – students and adults – if they are currently reading a novel. All the students have something they are reading – after all they get assignments and have homework. So we are definitely batting a high percentage there. At least with the students I am meeting.

But with adults, not so great. And of course much has been made of this fact. I’ve read plenty about how ‘no one reads anymore’. And what they mean is no one is reading novels anymore.

Then I wondered, how many people were reading throughout history anyway?  There are plenty of historical happenings that affected the number of adult readers (like literacy, the printing press, the invention of paper, lack of any leisure time, availability of books…ETC). But I wondered what percentage of adults in the USA at any given time are reading a novel.

There is some info online that looks at literacy, but of course it doesn’t address how often people were reading. (Here’s an intriguing essay on early American literacy from Daily Kos)

This research from Pew Research from 2015 said that 63% of adults in 2015 said they had read a ‘book’ in the previous 12 months. In 2011 it was 79%.

I found this study about young readers and parents reading to children. It’s main theme is the parents like libraries and parents try and read to young children. But there is a great deal of interesting data about families and differences between mothers and fathers when it come to valuing libraries.

I struggle some months to get any reading time in and with ever more accessible media contraptions it’s easier and easier to just zone-out and watch a movie or read social feeds (blogs…no comment…well, at least you have to read a blog…) then pick up a novel.

Of course literacy has some obvious value beyond ones ability or desire to read a novel. I just took it for granted that the desire to read a novel followed the ability to do so. I think that is an obvious mistaken assumption.

Judging by the research I can find I wonder if in the near future we dip below 40% or 50% of adults reading even a novel year. (Honestly we may be there already because most research just asks people if they read a ‘book’, not a ‘novel’). But I would guess that in say, 1800 it was far less than 50%.


About mfearing

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2 Responses to How many people read novels

  1. I’ve usually got a novel going. Typically, a thriller. Which is odd: being an illustrator, you’d think my life would be thrilling enough… : )

    • mfearing says:

      I always have a stack of books. I finished a few novels this year and have two short story collections I am almost done with. I switch between them. I picked out a new novel for next year that my wife will be giving me for Christmas. That’s how book picking works here! I find one and bring it home and she wraps it!

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