The astonishing number of Americans who haven’t read a single book in the past year

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“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”

So said beloved character Holden Caulfield, of J.D. Salinger’s novel “Catcher in the Rye,” published in 1951.

Today, in 2019, however, what doesn’t seem to be “happening much” is the actual act of reading books.

A shocking 27% of American adults say they haven’t read a book (or even part of one) in the last year. Not a printed book, e-book, or even an audiobook. Nada. That figure comes from the latest survey from the Pew Research Center.

But who are they?

The non-readers

Men are more likely to be non-readers than women (32% men vs. 22% women), and Black (33%) and Hispanic Americans (40%) are more likely to be non-readers than Caucasians (22%.) The lower the income bracket, the more likely you are to be a non-reader (those making under $30,000 didn’t read at 36% versus those making $75,000 at 14%), and the less education you have, the more likely you are not to read for pleasure.

For example, those with a high school education said they hadn’t read a book in the last year at 44%; only 8% of college grads said the same thing. Rural residents are more likely to eschew reading than urban dwellers (33% versus 24%; suburban residents also didn’t read at 24%.)

30% decline in reading

Other data points to a decline in reading. In 2018, the were The Washinton Post reported numbers from the American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; that survey found that the share of Americans who read for enjoyment had declined by 30% since 2004.

Why read?

There’s no logical argument to be made for reading; it is a nonessential activity, it isn’t a side hustle that earns you money; it takes up a lot of times; buying new books are expensive; and there’s no guarantee a book you begin will be good, or in the language of capitalist exchange, “worth it.”

But as writer and author Nora Ephron said, non-readers are missing something intangible about life itself:

“Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on… Reading is escape… it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.”