Column: Books vs. Twitter! We are reading more but there’s still room to grow – Chicago Tribune

When Facebook and its associated apps and websites recently went down for the better part of a day, on Twitter I saw a handful of tweets celebrating along the lines of “Great, now everyone can go read a book!”
I am aware of the irony of posting about how people should be reading books on a social media platform, but the sentiment got me wondering about how we, collectively as Americans, are doing when it comes to reading books.
We’ve been through an awfully weird period over the last 18 or so months, and it wouldn’t be all that strange if reading behaviors shifted during the pandemic. Previously, I wrote about how difficult I found it to read during the early lockdown months because of anxiety and grief over what was happening. I heard from readers who said they’d been experiencing something similar.
But since then, I’ve gotten my groove back, big time, having made reading time a priority simply because I recognized that when I read more, I seem to feel better emotionally.
It’s not that reading books is a sign of superior character, but as the wags on Twitter suggest, reading is perhaps a better use of one’s time than scrolling on social media. At least that’s what I tell myself to get off Twitter.
In my search for how Americans are doing when it comes to reading, I came across some interesting data that suggests we’re reading more than ever. For example, print book sales have been soaring during the pandemic.
But even more interesting is data from a Pew Research Center survey whose findings were released last month. In a representative sample of American adults, they found 77% had read a book in the previous 12 months. (Audio books also count as reading, as they should.)
Compare that to a 2017 survey produced as part of the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, which found that only 55% of adults reported reading a book in any format over the past year.
Now, a caution, while both surveys are designed to represent the composition of the general population, there could be methodological differences that account for some of the difference.
However, 77% vs. 55% is a big difference. I think there’s reason to believe people are reading more.
The Pew data also provides interesting insights into why those who aren’t reading, or almost a quarter of Americans, might not be reading. Poorer households are less likely to have read a book in the last year. This suggests a problem of access and resources, not necessarily desire. We can do something about that.
Younger Americans (ages 18-49), are reading at higher levels than those over 50. Perhaps digital channels being more familiar to younger folks makes more books more accessible.
As I rediscovered when I rebuilt my reading habits after my early-pandemic lull, reading is a “practice,” a combination of skills, attitudes, knowledge, and habits of mind that add up to a whole. This ideally starts when we’re young, but it’s never a bad time to consider the nature of your reading practice and see if there’s areas for improvement. The pandemic had disrupted my practice. I was fortunate to have years of training to fall back on to rebuild it.
We should try to make sure everyone has access to books to practice their reading practice.
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”
Twitter @biblioracle
Book recommendations from the Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read.
1. “Why Some Animals Eat Their Young: A Survivor’s Guide to Motherhood” by Dallas Louis
2. “Great Circle” by Maggie Shipstead
3. “The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line: Untold Stories of the Women Who Changed the Course of World War II” by Mari Eder
4. “Elevated: Art and Architecture of the Chicago Transit Authority” by Iker Gil, Ruth Lopez and Tim Samuelson
5. “In The Country of Others” by Leïla Slimani
— Kay N., Chicago
I gotta get my hands on that art and architecture of the CTA book. It looks fascinating. In that spirit, my recommendation is a book any curious Chicagoan should read, “The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream” by Thomas Dyja.
1. “Luster” by Raven Leilani
2. “The Best American Short Stories 2020″ by Curtis Sittenfeld and Heidi Pitlor
3. “A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries (2003-2020)” by David Sedaris
4. “Beautiful World, Where Are You?” by Sally Rooney
5. “Filthy Animals” by Brandon Taylor
— Laura P., Chicago
Have to go with short stories here, and also want to introduce Laura to a writer she might not know” “All the Names They Used for God” by Anjali Sachdeva.
1. “The Cruelest Month” by Louise Penny
2. “The Searcher” by Tana French
3. “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois” by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
4. “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr
5. “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together” by Heather McGhee
— Naomi T., Northbrook
This is a good candidate for one of my all-time favorite books that I recommend all the time to the right readers who then tell me how right I was to recommend it to them: “The Book of Night Women” by Marlon James.
Get a reading from the Biblioracle
Send a list of the last five books you’ve read and your hometown to [email protected].
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