Friday, January 11, 2008

The Brits Don't Read Neither

It seems that readers in Britain are reading less according to figures from the Office of National Statistics. The London Evening Standard reports that a quarter of Britons say they have not read a book in the past year and this goes up to almost half of males aged between 16 and 24.

Yet, and this is deliciously ironic, nearly half of those surveyed admit to lying about their reading to appear more intelligent, while a separate survey had shown a third of Britons read "challenging literature" in order to seem well-read and so they could "join in the conversation" ... even though they could not follow what the book was about!

Meanwhile, the government is launching the National Year of Reading campaign. Among the initiatives is the encouraging bosses to set up libraries in former workplace smoking rooms. (Hoping to replace one addiction with another?)

Sian Pattenden makes some reading suggestions for the unconvinced on the Guardian blog, though I find her sniffily dismissive of contemporary British fiction. (What was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka, Animal's People by Indra Sinha, Gifted by Nikita Lalwani ... what's not to like?)

John Crace in the Guardian, of course, recommends his forthcoming book of digested reads. (And reckons the average reader reads 60 pages an hour - by which measure I am very slow indeed!)

Denise Winterman on the BBC website asks - do you need to read a book to be clever? Not necessarily, when so much information comes to us in other ways.

What intrigues in this piece is Professor John Sutherland's suggesting that books have lost their chic:
If you try and sell your house, estate agents will tell you to get rid of the books, they are viewed as tired and middle aged.

I am feeling more and more like a dinosaur (called Bibliosaurus Text?)


aeisya said...

hello there! i am writing on behalf of administrators and we are wondering if we can include your boomk reviews in our monthly e-mag? how can i contact u in the future? my email is

Eliza said...

HI Sharon, very clever: Bibliosaurus Text. I like it.

Berisman said...

I have three cupboards full of books;then the estate agents can me grandpa!

bibliobibuli said...

aesiya - sure. as long as you put the link back to my blog and credit me. anything on this blog can be used provided that no-one is making a profit from it. (or if they are, share it!)

eliza - thanks. i like that too.

berisman - hi grandpa!

Anonymous said...

I definitely don't read 60 pages an hour. When I was growing somehow there seemed to be immense value attached to reading FAST -- why the hell was that?!? I've since realised that there's a lot to be said for reading slowly, especially if you read for language rather than plot (the two are not mutually exclusive, of course, but language tends to be slightly more important to me).

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Yes it is weird.. but reading for language ? I just read for entertainment, if the plot goes fast I have to read fast, time is relative anyway. books with action-oriented plots DO seem to go faster than books with meandering plots.

gnute said...

Am I the only one, but whenever I enjoy a book I try to read it as slowwwly as possible in order to savour it longer! Like tasting a square of bitter dark chocolate.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's partly what I was talking about, gnute :-) . I'm glad someone can relate. As Amir said on his blog yesterday (quoting Louis Armstrong on jazz), if you have to ask, you'll never know. To me it's impossible to read purely for entertainment -- as I imagine it probably is for anyone who writes or tries to. I stop and think about every word choice, every shift in rhythm, every punctuation mark.

But it's not just writers: anyone who reads poetry for pleasure must know what it is to privilege language over plot, no?

-- Preeta

Madcap Machinist said...


"anyone who reads poetry for pleasure must know what it is to privilege language over plot"

I think you've got that spot on!

... or should that be you've got it right on the spot? :-)

bibliobibuli said...

and when a passage gives you lots of pleasure, you find yourself rereading it. and maybe then reading it again.

i read slowly too sometimes because i read with a pen in my hand to scribble thoughts down along the way

but there is also the book you read primarily for plot - maybe for light relief - that goes much faster

Anonymous said...

Not here.. I just read. I mean, that would be like watching a movie, and then constantly rewinding the good parts :) the point of reading, if you ask me, is to fill the empty spaces between life, death and work. There's not a lot more to do otherwise is there ? I don't re-read stuff unless I don't have much of a choice :)