Sermon Illustrations

Twilight of the Book In 1937, 29% of American adults told the pollster George Gallup they were reading a book. In ’55, only 17% were. In ’78, a survey found that 55% had read a book in the previous 6 months. The question was even looser in ’98 and ’02; 71% of Americans had read a novel, short story, poem, or play in the previous 12 months. In ’07, 73% read a book of some kind, not excluding those read for work or school, in the past year. If you didn’t read the fine print, you might think that reading was on the rise. You won’t think so, however, when you learn that in ’82, 56.9% of Americans had read a work of creative literature in the previous 12 months. That fell to 54% in ’92, and to 46.7% in ’02. National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) chairman Dana Gioia writes, “Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages and fewer opportunities for advancement.” The Book Industry Study Group estimates book sales fell from 8.27 books per person in ’01 to 7.93 in ’06. American households spent an average of $163 on reading in ’95 vs. $126 in ’05. NEA reports American households’ spending on books, adjusted for inflation, is “near its 29-year low.” The Dept. of Education reports that between ’92 and ’03 the average adult’s skill in reading prose slipped 1 point on a 500 point scale, and the proportion capable of such tasks as “comparing viewpoints in 2 editorials” declined from 15% to 13%. In ’92, 44% of 12th graders talked about their reading with friends at least once a week. By ’05, only 37% did so. Between ’82 and ’02, the percentage of Americans who read literature declined not only in every age group but in every generation—even in those moving from youth into middle age, which is typically the most fertile time of life for reading. We are reading less as we age, and we are reading less than people who were our age 10 or 20 years ago. (The New Yorker 12/27/07)