I am not a fan of the cold weather — not at all. The one thing I love doing during this time of year in the Great White North where I am from, is curling up by the fireplace with a nice cup of my favorite tea and a really good book. My only regret is that I can’t spend more time reading.
At some point I have to put down my tea cup and get back to work.
Apparently, though, when it comes to actually sitting down and reading a book, I am somewhat of an oddball.
You also fall in the unique category by today’s standards as you are reading a newspaper. It seems that fewer and fewer Americans are reading anything at all, whether we’re talking about a book, a newspaper column or an article online.
This trend worries Jack Miller, the president of Central Connecticut State University, who has also been studying literacy rates for several years.
In his most recent report, released in early January, he found Washington, D.C., to be the most literate city in the nation. The rates are determined by looking at several key literacy indicators, including the number of bookstores, newspaper circulation, library resources and Internet resources.
And while the high ranking may be good news for the nation’s capital, the overall report, according to Miller, is bad news for the rest of the country. Mil-ler sees a decline in newspaper readership and fewer folks in America’s largest cities buying books.
“The decline of newspaper readership is stark. At the beginning of this survey in 2003, newspapers in America’s larger cities had a weekday circulation equivalent to 55 percent of the population of the cities. Sunday circulation was 75 percent. Now, on average, less than one-third read any weekday newspaper and less than half read a Sunday paper,” he said in the study’s overview.
He added the survey found that some of the largest declines in readership occurred in Atlanta, Boston, Miami and San Francisco.
“Bookstores are also disappearing,” he said. “In 2003 there were nearly 9 independent booksellers per 10,000 people; that average is now just below 6 per 10,000.
“In some otherwise strongly literate cities the change is even more dramatic. Boston, for example, has gone from 9 per 10,000 to 3 per 10,000,” Miller stated.
When I heard about the literacy report, I immediately thought that most Americans were simply going online to get their news updates or to download the latest best-seller onto their Kindle or another electronic reading device.
That’s unfortunately not the case.
Miller said his research and other studies conclude that the size of a paper’s online readership is barely a quarter of its print readership. Book sales, including online book sales, have also dropped.
We know that St. Paul tells us in Romans that faith comes by hearing (see Rom 10:17). But it also comes by reading. Faith can be greatly nourished by reading Scripture, along with reading books on the fascinating lives of the saints, or by meditating upon a papal document. Reading in general, whether reading about religion, science, art or history, can open up so much of God’s world to us. It’s such a gift.
So as I stare at the pile of books, magazines and newspapers in my office that I have yet to conquer, the literacy numbers become a source of real irritation for me. What I wouldn’t give for another cup of tea and just a few more hours in front of the fireplace, and what a shame that this gift of reading is being rejected by so many.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of Catholic Connection, produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.