Colleen over at Chasing Ray threw herself on a grenade for the rest of us and read the NEA report that states that Americans are reading less. Colleen and her commenters discuss the number crunching and what it all means, if it means anything at all.
Perhaps the NEA should be looking at reading from a different angle. Instead of counting readers and nonreaders and adding them up and dividing the sum by something or other and then taking it to another power, maybe it would be more useful to give some thought to why those who read choose to do so.
The New York Times just ran an article called A Good Mystery: Why We Read. "...what is it, exactly, that turns someone into a book lover who keeps coming back for more?" the author, Motoko Rich asks. "There is no empirical answer...The gestation of a true, committed reader is in some ways a magical process, shaped in part by external forces but also by a spark within the imagination."
Well, that there is no empirical answer business may be disappointing, but I think the question is a good one. The NEA studies aren't going to do much to create readers. But if we could figure out why readers read, we'd have a model to work with.
That, at least, would be progress.