Hitting the Books: Witches and Wizards and Vampires, Oh My

They’re everywhere. No matter how hard we try to avoid them, we just can’t. “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer’s Edward Cullen and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter are all over our Facebook walls, newsfeeds, quizzes, groups and bumper stickers. Especially those damn bumper stickers. As much as we hate seeing them when trying to find a witty or humorous bumper sticker to remind our friends of last night’s rendezvous, we can all honestly say that we recognize which characters an actor has played and which book-turned-movie they’re in.
This recognition of fictional characters is what the National Endowment for the Arts (NAE) would call an effect of “Reading on the Rise.” In a 2008 study, the NAE found that for the first time in more than 25 years American adults are reading more literature. This increase in literary reading (referring to the reading of any novels, short stories, poems or plays in print or online) was particularly high among the young adults group (18 to 24-year-olds). So it’s no wonder why all that’s seen on women’s Facebook pages nowadays are fictional male characters and the 10 reasons why they’re superior to our mortal male friends.
This increase in literary reading wasn’t only seen in female readers, but was also closely equal between men and women. The number of men reading literature actually grew at an 11-percent rate (from 37.6 percent to 41.9 percent of men) between 2002 and 2008. Comparatively, this rate declined from 1982 to 2002. This increase brings men’s reading rates closer to those of women, which at 58 percent have increased from an already high 55.1 percent.
The increases in reading among both males and females can be attributed to increases in the reading of fiction. Although the genre with the highest reading preference in the survey is mysteries, nearly half (47 percent) of all adults surveyed said they read fiction. The rise of fiction is not only due to the fact that reading poetry and drama is declining, but also because of Hollywood. Between 2002 and 2008, movies like “Harry Potter,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Golden Compass,” all of which are based on books, began accumulating attention and large fan bases.
The entertainment value of the movies drew us into reading the books on which they were based so that we weren’t lost or out of the loop when it came to discussing said movies. Another reason for the increase in readers would have to be the entertainment value of the books themselves. The top three genres of preferred readings, mysteries, other fiction and thrillers, are all attention grabbers and generally easy readings. Living in such an entertainment-focused society, the popular books of today are just candy for our brains. They get us reading, but what we read does little to enhance our intellectual or reasoning skills and rather just fills our heads with fantasies and wishful thoughts for vampire boyfriends and schools with magic classes that replace having to take O-Chem or Math 2B.
The popularity of reading can also be traced back to the accessibility of the books. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, there weren’t 3G touch screen cell phones and Wi-Fi Internet from which we could access stories, news and mail. Not only does technology allow for basic communication, it also gets us connected with more reading opportunities, like blogs, downloadable versions of poems, stories, scripts, etc. While back in the day we had to go to the library and look up everything on our own, today we can just go to our nifty little laptops and type in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 17 to see the poem, an analogy of it and a translation into modern English speech.
This shift can be seen in the percentage of people who did most of their readings online. These people reported reading books as well. Eighty-four percent of adults who read or downloaded reading material from the Internet also have been found to read books, both in print and online. Although reading articles, essays, blogs and gossip columns online isn’t seen as literary reading, these adults have a book-reading rate of 77 percent. Those of us who are constantly online or glued to our blackberries are more likely to read more literature because it’s so convenient and doesn’t require us to leave the comforts of our rooms.
With reading being the “it” hobby right now, literary reading rates are likely to continue growing steadily. Therefore, it’s a good sign that America is bringing back the emphasis on reading abilities and the significance of literary reading.

Megan Jhu is a second-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at mjhu@uci.edu.