Spotting a rare and mythical beast: The Adult Reader


I suppose I should have realized how difficult it would be to gather reconnaissance on what people are reading out in the real world, considering that I spend the majority of my week days within the confines of my full time job, where nobody reads for pleasure. What I hadn’t anticipated was that even during those brief interludes when I am released from work, stumbling out the doors and blinking in the bright light, that I would be hunting a rare and mythical beast.  Wandering through the outside world, my book dowsing rod trembling before me,  I’m just not seeing it.  Am I missing something?

Not really.  Adults who read books are, it turns out, a rare thing.  According to a September 2013 poll based on a sample of 1,000 adults in the United States, 28% had read no books during the prior 12 months. And this 28% was the majority of the people polled; the next largest group of 25% had read only between one and five books during the same time period. And I’m guessing that most of those who had read one to five books weren’t reading War and Peace -sized volumes, and that a large percentage of the books were either Harry Potter– or Twilight-affiliated.

So when I finally came across a reader in the wild today, it wasn’t a huge surprise to find out that he is a graduate student at a local university’s English program. But he wasn’t exactly reading for class. Matt, who works as a nanny, was waiting around for his charge to emerge from the same pool where my child was splashing about. He showed me the book he was reading:

How to fill the void while awaiting the next Game of Thrones book
How to fill the void while awaiting the next Game of Thrones book

Future of the Mind, by Michio Kaku, is a book about the potential for connectivity between the human brain and computers. Amazon readers have overwhelmingly praised it with 4.3 out of 5 stars. My target, Matt, seemed quite taken by the concepts proposed by the book, but admitted it was quite a change of pace for him; he explained that he’d reached the end of the Game of Thrones book series, and this account of life imitating science fiction is meant to tide him over while he awaits G.R.R. Martin’s next installment of HBO fodder.

Let me be clear so that we can settle this up front: I am not a Game of Thrones devotee and this post may be the only time I reference it.  I have never read any of the books (though the first book is on my to-read list), and have never watched a full episode, and couldn’t name any of the characters or houses or lands (although I bet could make decent guesses by making modest changes to Nordic or Arthurian names).  I will not be able to comment on last night’s show, or on the latest ingenious methods by which deaths were devised.   Based on what I know about the show, and my preference for kindler, gentler fare, I suspect neither the show nor the books are to my taste.

Thrones, however,takes us back to the earlier concept of the rare and mythical. I would respectfully suggest to Mr. Martin that his next book include  a character even more fantastical than baby dragons imprinting on some blonde woman: a dragon that reads books! Or, if you want to get really carried away, a human that reads books!

Geese imprinting on a bearded fellow
Geese imprinting on a bearded fellow

One thing does give me hope.  The first of G.R.R. Martin’s books in the series was published in 1996 — almost 20 years ago.  I was about to wager a guess that the total universe of Thrones viewers for the most recent episode might be larger than the universe of readers of a book nearly two decades old. Indeed, one of the recent episodes bagged 7.2 million viewers. But I’m happy to report that Throne readers have outnumbered the per-episode viewers: since 1996, over 24 million copies have been sold.  And if we consider time invested as the best measure of book fans versus show fans, then I think the bibliophiles win hands down.  Those are some big books. When the next one comes out, I’m sure it’ll be hard to miss, with or without my dowsing rod.

Artist's rendering of the blogger looking for books in the wild
Artist’s rendering of the blogger looking for books in the wild



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