HERE'S a sad commentary on the state of our nation's literacy: Only one in four U.S. adults read any books at all last year.
That finding, in a new Associated Press-Ipsos poll, parallels similar studies which indicate that Americans don't read books nearly as much as they used to. It's frightening to think that we could be moving to a time when book reading is a thing of the past.
One main reason is the time many people now spend cruising the Internet. And cell phones, iPods, TV, and movies all grab larger chunks of our time. What's dismaying is that too many believe they can stay on top of their intellectual game with CNN and CSPAN and Internet news. And for the real intellectual, there are the History and Discovery channels.
However, those who adhere to that idea are fooling themselves. You might be able to get a cursory understanding about a place, a time, or an episode in history from television. But it is never the same as actually reading about it in a book.
The fact is that people read books because they are educated, not so much to become educated. And it's easy to guess who's not reading these days. While the college-educated read the most, those 50 and older read more than their younger counterparts.
According to the AP survey, those who hadn't read a single book in the past year were less educated with lower incomes, more likely to be a minority, less religious, and from rural areas.
The new poll found wide geographical differences. While Westerners and Midwesterners only read an average of one book a year, Southerners read more religious books and romance novels. Two-thirds of those surveyed also read the Bible and religious books.
Also, Democrats and liberals read more than Republicans and conservatives. That probably won't be an issue in the presidential campaign, but here's something all the candidates should do: Take the opportunity to urge Americans to read more.
This trend towards becoming a nation of nonreaders must be reversed if we have any hope of competing in a global economy.