Finding compulsive readers

Larry Rogers

Larry Rogers

John Miller wrote a column a couple of weeks ago emphasizing the importance of reading.

It triggered a response in me, but then I’m a compulsive reader.

Days that I don’t get to read are wasted days.

Days filled with meetings often feel wasted in that way, though smuggling reading material into a meeting is almost as useful a skill as escaping from the meeting in the first place.

A lot of people who like to read don’t have control over the urge. Anything is short-term fodder for their reading impulses.

Some people are so far gone that they have read the notices that most people happily ignore in elevators?the ones that let you know how much weight the elevator car can carry, plus fascinating bits about relevant state and federal laws governing elevator use.

They’ve also read the tags on the ends of mattresses?the ones that say you can’t remove them under penalty of law. I think the warnings are aimed at retailers, but I thought them to be real legal threats the day I first tore one off a mattress.

Of course, I also believed that the nuns in my school carried guns in what I later found out were pen and pencil holsters.

That’s not the worst thing a kid can believe. My sister-in-law once believed that cheese was excreted by mice and refused to eat it.

It was a good deal for her siblings, but socially paralyzing once she got to school, I suppose.

Since she lives in Wisconsin, home of the cheeseheads, it still may be a problem.

Compulsive readers read what’s written on the backs of cereal boxes: ingredients, nutritional values and special mail-in offers.

Compulsive readers aside, it’s clear that reading is a survival skill that faces significant challenges in our culture. I’ll give you three bits of evidence to support that belief.

First, the amount read by students decreases by one-half between early elementary school and late middle school.

Second, the average American reads less than three books a year. Since a statistically disproportionate amount of reading, as reported by booksellers and librarians, is done by women, the average male may be lucky to read what’s on the cereal box.

Third, the average social studies teacher (teacher!) reads less than two books a year (but many watch a lot of game footage).

A fourth bit of evidence might be the ratio between money spent at the coffee bar at Barnes & Noble and that spent on books.

I’ll research that.

I would bet that it’s dead even.

What are the implications of this for our culture as we stand poised to make significant decisions in the world arena?

We’ll see next time.

Larry Rogers is an associate professor of education. Write him at [email protected]