How Do We Make America a Book Nation?

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By Brian Feinblum, Media Connect CMO

There’s a statistic that’s been floating around for a few years that is disturbing. Approximately 1 in 4 people last year in the United States did not read a single book. Not a single celebrity biography, not a cheap romance novel, not a book about one’s hobby, favorite sport, or even a self-help book. Sad as that is, it’s gotten worse.

40 years ago, 8% of Americans said they didn’t read a single book in the past year. This means the rate of non-book readers has tripled over that time.

If the rate triples again, that would mean that in 2058, 3 out of 4 Americans will not have read a book that year.

I am proud that I work for a company – Media Connect – that celebrates the written word and promotes a wide variety of books to the news media and the masses. Everyone in the book industry should be involved in not just marketing their own books, but in promoting all books to all people. For nearly 30 years I have championed over 1,000 books as part of my career, but as a private individual I passionately celebrate the power of books as well.

Of course teachers, parents, libraries, and others are deeply invested in bringing about 100% literacy – otherwise, society can’t fully function properly. But once we find a way to improve overall literacy, how will we encourage more book readers – and why is that important?

If people can read and comprehend at a high enough level, they’ll be able to contribute more to society, from their jobs to how they interact with others. But in order to be a savvy consumer, informed voter, active citizen, and someone on a path to deeper understanding of the world we live in, one has to venture past short-form reading. Here’s why:

Some blogs, Facebook posts, and tweets are written by ordinary people, without the benefit of an editor, fact-checker or special training in writing or expertise in the subject area that they write about. They fill a purpose and can be useful in the dialogue that takes place daily, but books, they are not.

Real journalism – newspapers, magazines, newswires, trade journals, and newsletters – are a step up. Typically, those pieces are produced by professionals, with the help of editors, researchers and fact-checkers. They may have access to interview leading experts and they have a sense of duty to truth, justice and fairness. That isn’t to say they are perfect or accurate all of the time, but they certainly provide daily insight on the state of society from a trained eye’s perspective.

Then comes the book, a magnificent presentation of facts, data, opinion, analysis and theory – based on lots of research and professional scrutiny. Not all books are written by qualified experts or even good writers but books offer us the best chance to get a fuller picture and deeper understanding of an issue, event, person, or thing. Reading books helps us understand who we are and shows us what we could become.

Novels provide us access to other worlds and help us imagine ourselves a bit differently. They have proven to be far superior to essays, short stories, and poems in terms of giving the reader a rich, deep story – an escape from life as we know it.

So when tens of millions of Americans don’t pick up a book, they deprive themselves of appreciating life on a different level from one they might get out of short-form reading – if they do much reading at all.

So what can be done to encourage more people to read books?

If economics are the issue, we must play up the access to libraries and the trove of free books available online. We should also champion used-book stores.

If language is the issue, we must publicize the availability of books in other languages, primarily Spanish, and to also hold special classes to teach English to everyone in this country – legal or illegal immigrants.

If lacking a computer is the reason, we should fund a program to get every man, woman and child an e-reader.

If competing forms of content is the issue, we must highlight the value of a book over other forms of reading, as well as other forms of consuming information or entertainment. Enjoy going to see a play, downloading a video, attending a concert, or binging on a Netflix series. But go read a book, too.

There are many, many reasons that people don’t read books, ranging from incapacitation – blind, in a coma, dementia, mental illness – to learning disorders, such as ADHD or dyslexia. Others, as they get older or have a lot of stress, will say they don’t have the patience to read. Some may simply suffer from poor eyesight and without glasses, won’t read a book. Others may just have exhausting schedules – holding down multiple jobs, lacking sleep, acting as a caretaker, or confronted by a major task. Some may have long driving or walking commutes, leaving them without the time others may use to read a book while on a train, bus, or plane.

Still, whatever the cause – and sometimes it’s merely an excuse – we need to find a way to get a greater percentage of the population to read a book this year. We need more tutors, teachers, mentors, parents, grandparents, babysitters, and anyone who is responsible for a child to encourage book reading. The more kids that are turned on to books, the more likely they’ll be adult readers. Even if we can’t save adults – though we should try – we should be able to raise the new generation to love books.

How terrible it is to raise a non-reader? To think that a child today won’t read a single book in a given year of adulthood is really unthinkable. To those who love reading books we can’t imagine how one lives without a role for books in their life. But maybe we need to understand why and how we developed into a society, where 2% of its citizens did not buy, borrow, steal or download a single book in 2017.

We can’t dismiss non-readers. They not only do a disservice to society and themselves, they may end up reproducing and raising non-readers, spawning a multi-generational book deficit. Not everyone can do or like the same thing – whether it’s about sports, travel, careers, relationships, hobbies, food or anything. But we should all have a consensus that books are good and positive and important, that we need and should want books the way we need air, water, food, shelter, and clothing.

We all fall into patterns. A long year gets shortened by daily repetition. If our daily approach to life is without books, when do we sneak them in? Weekends? Vacations? Travel? We need to create a pattern that is book-inclusive, one where books are seen not as an obligation or chore, but as a right, a pleasure and a reward. As a way of being. Books are beautiful ways to learn, feel, think, dream, debate and feel beauty, inspiration and faith.

It helps when an organized effort, one coming from the government, non-profits, and the book industry, puts forward encouragement and opportunity for book reading for everyone. But it also will come down to others – whether it’s institutions like religion, business and education – or to household inspiration or personal responsibility – to inspire the nation to open its hearts, minds, and souls to books so that we can grow, heal, change, and unite.

Read a book today. Encourage others to read one tomorrow.

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