I’m part of a generation struggling to figure out how to read – again. I was born to the book. My mother read to me and she made up stories for me. My favorite was about Muffy, Fluffy and Tuffy – three very funny kitties. She forbade us to bring our books to the table – something I’m ashamed to admit my sister and I did more than once or twice. When I traveled a lot as part of various jobs, I often took two or three books with me and bought more while I was away.
Years ago, downsizing from two houses to one small home, we gave away more than 30 good-sized boxes of books. Than, like Thomas Jefferson, I began buying more right away. Now, using my local library, Amazon and buying used books from the wonderful Niantic Book Barn on Long Island Sound in Connecticut, I manage a revolving door of books in and books out.
But I have more and more friends who are reading books online, and I’m angling for my first iPad. One of the ways I’ll use it is to download books. I’m looking forward to it.
The way we read is changing – literally – and today we canceled all but our Sunday subscription to The New York Times. We’ll read the weekday editions online – I think. I have my renewal notice for Archaeology sitting on my desk. Maybe I should renew it for only a year and plan to read it on the iPad I don’t yet own.
I started this website based on my untested premise that older women are ready to read online. I’m not yet sure that’s true, but I do know there is a seismic shift in what we use to get the words from our surface of choice and into our hungry and eager brains. But let’s look back before we look forward. I found this fascinating set of statistics compiled by journalist Robyn Jackson (www.robynjackson.com):
1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
57 percent of new books are not read to completion.
70 percent of books published do not earn back their advance.
70 percent of the books published do not make a profit.
(Source: Jerold Jenkins, www.JenkinsGroupInc.com)
53 percent read fiction, 43 percent read nonfiction. The favorite fiction category is mystery and suspense, at 19 percent.
55 percent of fiction is bought by women, 45 percent by men.
(Source: Publishers Weekly)
About 120,000 books are published each year in the U.S.
A successful fiction book sells 5,000 copies.
A successful nonfiction book sells 7,500 copies.
(Source: Authors Guild, www.authorsguild.org)
On average, a bookstore browser spends 8 seconds looking at a book's front cover and 15 seconds looking at the back cover.
(Source: Para Publishing, www.parapub.com)
Each day in the U.S., people spend 4 hours watching TV, 3 hours listening to the radio and 14 minutes reading magazines.
(Source: Veronis, Suhler & Associates investment banker)
But despite this dismal view of reading and readers, Kindle, iPad and ebook sales are soaring, and almost gone on the MetroNorth train to New York is that familiar rustling of newspapers as readers do the careful train-fold to get from one section to another without slapping a seatmate in the head with the sports section. Now, it’s a sea of rounded backs and the quiet hunching over a device of some sort. Last week I think I was watching a young man write or edit music on his iPad, but I can’t be sure because I had no idea what I was looking at on his screen. I may have been influenced by his big guitar.
The dilemma is this: I will read until I die. That much is certain. Am I on the road to giving up paper as part of the process? Will I eventually stop complaining about getting newsprint on my fingers? I think the answer is yes, though my trip will be relatively slow and will happen in fits and starts.
But I know what I’ll lose in the sleek efficiency of being able to take all the books I want anywhere I go right there inside the glitzy iPad of my future.
Last week I was showing a visitor my oldest book, written in 1817, about slavery in America. It includes the stamp of the book’s first owner, Sylanvus Lyon, who was born in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1746. That I can hold in my hand a musty, fading book that someone held in his hands nearly 200 years ago is thrilling to me. There is no history in an electronic device. It is, by nature, always about the future. For me the past has value and there can never be any electronic, battery-hungry, glitzy device more glamorous to me than this delicate, ancient book.