Some Notes On Reading
I stumbled across the Amazon bestsellers list last week and checked out the most popular subjects in the Amazon table; rebel girls, dieting, Mother’s Day, Fearne Cotton, big knickers, more mums. We all need to relax, so I’m not criticising the reading quality (although it does set a pretty low bar), but what struck me was that male-oriented fiction is noticeable by its almost total absence.
A quick, unscientific straw-poll produced 5 female readers (voracious), 3 (regular), 2 (occasional) – male readers (none). Could it be that reading is being bred out of the male psyche?
The elephant in the room, of course, is the iPad. In the lives of many couples I know there is now a third person who sits, like the daemons in the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy, at the right hand of the male, advising and offering content. Statistically males are far more prone to playing games, and they love to make lists, something the iPad taps into very heavily.
My female friends mostly read constantly. Few read ‘literature’ as such, but most tackle hefty New York Times bestsellers about multi-generational families facing crises.
I don’t see children reading in public and loved the story of the little boy taken into a bookshop by his mother who looked at her and said, ‘Mum, have we gone back into the past?’
In the UK, a largely indoor society, children seem to watch more TV than anywhere I’ve been. The danger is regarding reading as something you have to do, the vegetables to the sweets of TV, something unpleasant but necessary for health.
Readability is not a crime; I have no problem at all with Dan Brown, who is at least clear in his intentions, but I fear that for many their only book will be Paula Hawkins’ ‘The Girl on the Train’, which is so linguistically boring, confusingly constructed and murkily written that I failed to realise there were three ‘girls’ involved either in the book or the film.
Meanwhile, Ian McGuire’s astounding ‘The North Water’, about a whaling ship, is more readable while being more erudite and much more thrilling. But does that make it a ‘male’ read because there are – of necessity – no ‘girls’ in it? Despite critical plaudits its Amazon ratings are mixed, with many female readers complaining about bad language. In a book set on a 19th century whaling ship!
Normally a friend would have recommended it to me, but this time I had to stumble across a quote from a fellow author to point it out.
The last major UK reading survey found that England suffers from a cultural divide, with poor adults much less likely to read books than their richer neighbours.
A survey of 1,500 adults found that more than one in four (27%) of adults from the poorest socio-economic backgrounds said they never read books themselves, compared with just 13% of those from the richest socio-economic backgrounds.
More than 6 in 10 (62%) of those from the richest backgrounds said they read daily or weekly, compared with four in 10 (42%) of those from the poorest.
Adults from the highest socio-economic background own twice as many books on average as those from the lowest backgrounds (376 compared with 156). 83% of adults from the richest group feel that reading improves their lives, compared with 72% of those from the poorest group.
Here’s the interesting part; significant minorities of adults have negative attitudes towards reading, with nearly a fifth (18%) saying they would never read a book and 7 in 10 (71%) saying they never read e-books.
More than one-third (36%) say they often start a book but get bored, while a similar proportion (35%) say they ‘can’t find time to read’. Almost half said they prefer watching TV to reading.
More than one-quarter of those surveyed said they would rather surf the internet and use social media than read – rising to 56% among 18- to 30-year-olds. Around three-quarters (76%) of all adults questioned said reading improves their lives, while almost half (49%) enjoy reading books very much.
The study concludes that people who read regularly are more satisfied with life, happier and more likely to feel their life is worthwhile.