Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"I just get sleepy when I read"

CNN has details on a somewhat depressing survey of American reading habits. I'd be more depressed, but reading has never been anything but a minority pastime.

The blogosphere is buzzing over quotes by Pat Schroeder, the president of the American Association of Publishers and a former Democratic house member from Colorado. According to Schroeder:
"The Karl Roves of the world have built a generation that just wants a couple slogans: 'No, don't raise my taxes, no new taxes.' It's pretty hard to write a book saying, 'No new taxes, no new taxes, no new taxes' on every page.'"
I find the argument unnecessarily partisan. The statistics hardly support the weight:
"Among those who had read at least one book, liberals typically read nine books in the year, with half reading more than that and half less. Conservatives typically read eight, moderates five."
That's not much of a difference, I think, and the real villains are the ones in the squishy middle. And while everyone is entitled to their opinion, it's distressing to find the titular head of American publishing dismissing eight out of 22 readers.

It seems to me the numbers support a rather different conclusion, that most Americans have political opinions untested by serious reading. To me, that's a little scary. But does it matter? If democracy really required a reading electorate, Iceland would be the only functioning one.

One of our greatest strengths is the degree to which LibraryThing crosses political and social boundaries. There are, of course, political groups, two of the largest being Political Conservatives and Progressive & Liberal!. But, members mostly get along, either because the community here is welcoming and we prohibit ad hominems or because book lovers share something as powerful as a political orientation.

Then again, maybe it's because our book-based social system tends to keep opposites away from each other...

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12 Comments:

Blogger ranginui said...

If democracy really required a reading electorate, Iceland would be the only functioning one.

Who's to say it's not? Most democracies seem to be fairly dysfunctional to me :)

8/21/2007 10:27 PM  
Blogger Dystopos said...

In fairness to Schroeder, I would assume that those conservatives who do a lot of reading are the least likely to have been influence by Rove's PR tactics.

8/21/2007 10:53 PM  
Blogger Paola said...

For readers who would like to see the data from the Ipsos survey, here is the source: http://www.ipsos-na.com/news/client/act_dsp_pdf.cfm?name=mr070821-4topline.pdf&id=3613

8/22/2007 2:41 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

There isn't much data there, actually. You get the answers to questions, but none of the analysis of the data or the raw data itself.

8/22/2007 2:42 AM  
Anonymous andyl said...

Also I find this quote
"Among those who had read at least one book, liberals typically read nine books in the year, with half reading more than that and half less." very interesting.

The headline figure for all respondents show the mode to be 0, the median to be 3.9 and the mean to be 14.9 (for all people who have read a book in the past year the values are higher).

I am pretty certain that "the half reading more, half less" indicates that they are talking about the median. Quoting a single "typical figure" is dangerously misleading, more so when 27% of the respondents hadn't read a single book in the past year.

Going back to the quote, I believe (from educated guesswork) they are quoting the median for those liberals who report that they have read one or more books in the past year.

8/22/2007 5:59 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

I think you might be right, but it's hard to know. They must sell the full reports. I wonder who the market for these reports is?

8/22/2007 11:12 AM  
Anonymous Proclus said...

"It's pretty hard to write a book saying, 'No new taxes, no new taxes, no new taxes' on every page.'"

But not impossible. I remember seeing a book (in Russian) entitled something like "The author on his fortieth birthday." The entire text: "The day before the day before the day before the day before ... [and on for about 20 pages] ... the day before yesterday, I was born."

8/22/2007 6:36 PM  
Blogger "As You Know" Bob said...

I managed to tease some interesting data out of the AP survey anyway:

1) The 24% who read more than a book a month do 75% of the reading.

Further:

2) It looks a lot like the 6% who read at least a book per week read more books than do the bottom 80% of the public.

8/22/2007 7:38 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

I could write the blog like that. It would work better backwards anyway.

8/22/2007 7:38 PM  
Blogger Felius said...

What does it say about me that when I read Proclus' comment I immediately thought "Ahh, but did the author take into account leap years?". Nothing too flattering, I imagine.

8/22/2007 7:58 PM  
Blogger k8 said...

When I saw the average of 4 books per year, all I could think was that I had read that many last week and it was a slow week!

8/23/2007 12:35 AM  
Blogger szarka said...

I wonder what the figure would have been for my fellow libertarians? Or for socialists? I'll bet the figures would have been even higher for both groups.

8/23/2007 5:43 PM  

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