Study: More Than Half Of US Adults Haven’t Read A Book In A Year

You read that right. According to a survey of more than 2,000 people from an independent industry research firm, 51.7 percent of American adults did not read a book in 2021.

More than one fifth (22.01 percent) haven’t read a book in three years, and more than 10 percent haven’t read a book in 10 years.

There are obvious reasons for that, including the choice of many other mediums for entertainment, plus an unprecedented volume of content offerings from streaming networks and traditional TV, meaning most of us have tens of thousands of movies at our fingertips through paid subscriptions like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, as well as free ad-supported streamers like Tubi and the Roku channel.

Then there’s internet doomscrolling, the endless consumption of news (of which I am guilty), social media platforms designed to keep people engaged, fan fiction sites and a million other leisure activities competing for our attention.

Yet none of those things have a quality that books do. When you read a book, you are entering a theater of the mind created by one mind. Not a movie that has 500 crew members in addition to its cast, focus groups, script writers, script doctors and script polishers. Not a TV show written by committee in a writers room to the specifications of network honchos. With a fiction book, you’re allowing one person’s imagination to usher you into a story, trusting in their storytelling skill to make the experience worthwhile. With a well-researched non-fiction book, you can travel back in time, reliving wars, coups and personal stories, events that shaped the world and events that meant the world to a few people.

Not surprisingly, the survey shows, the percentage of people who read books regularly is lower for younger age cohorts. Credit YA fiction, like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and similar series for turning at least some of them into readers.

A curious kitty reading “The Art of Meowing for Treats” by Buddy the Cat. Credit: PITB

The publishing industry is in a sorry state. In lean times publishers and their imprints have become as risk-averse as major movie studios, so they’re far less likely to take chances on new authors with new perspectives than they are to fall back on the same handful of big-name novelists or surefire memoirs like Prince Harry’s Spare.

Because of that, publishing houses don’t invest in developing younger up-and-coming writers the way they once did, and there are fewer literary journals and genre magazines for new authors to use as stepping stones.

Compounding the problem is the echo chamber in publishing: Because many publishing jobs offer low salaries, most of the people who can afford to take those jobs are independently wealthy, increasingly concentrated in places like Brooklyn, and share similar perspectives. That has a pronounced effect on the kind of books they’re publishing.

Still, I think we all share in the blame. I read only 12 or 13 books in the past year. That seemed low but not so bad until I though about it. That’s a measly 120 books in 10 years. It doesn’t add up to much over a lifetime.

When you put it like that, you either want to make sure every book you read is a gem, or you get your ass in gear, put down the junk news articles and smartphone, and dive into more books. 

I am a science fiction junkie and wanted to read more female authors since my favorites happen to be a bunch of British guys — Iain M. Banks, Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton — and managed a measly one fiction book by a female author in the past year, although it was pretty awesome. (Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes, also known as Stacey Kincade. I think she’s Barnes for science fiction and Kincade for other stuff.) I’ll definitely be down for the planned sequel, and I have Ursula LeGuin in the queue.

What are your reading habits? How many books do you read per year, and are you happy with your pace?


26 thoughts on “Study: More Than Half Of US Adults Haven’t Read A Book In A Year”

  1. Oh wow. Books about cats via kindle on my phone are my method.. or any cozy mystery (I admit that Hallmark style mysteries like Aurora Teagarden are my total guilty pleasure..) books involving cats as the main mystery solver like the Joe grey mysteries and a pile of many others. I think probably 20 in a year mostly while traveling on bus and London tube (subway) I just get lost in the story and have missed my stop on occasions..

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I went through every single P.D. James books. Not sure if she wrote any more after last one i read. Could not put these books down!! And now i am sorry i gave them away.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I’ve gotta check out Joe Grey since those books keep coming up in comments. It’s kind of amazing that entire sub-genres of anthropomorphic cat books exist, that we put that much effort into giving cats voices based on their personalities. (Which I’m certainly doing here.)

      On a somewhat related note, the Newbury and Hobbes investigations might qualify as cozy mystery, depending on where the boundaries of the genre are. Those are fun books.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Dismaying . . . I’m 3 (plus 60) and can’t even count the number of books I’ve read in this past year; 10s of them (and not small 10s, either). Yes, do go for the Ursula K. LeGuin . . . also, you might want to dig into some Sheri S. Tepper! On a lighter note, some Sharon Shinn, Sherwood Smith, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Tamora Pierce, Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm, Jane Lindskold, and more! (OK, not all of those are “lighter”.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the many recommendations, Jessie. Tepper sounds like she’s closest to the kind of stuff I like, especially if she veers toward SF-horror. I realized I also forgot to list Aliette de Bodard, whose work has been included in a couple of the yearly SF anthologies, and Mary Rosenblum, who authored one of my favorite short stories of all time, which also happens to have a major animal focus:

      I love the idea of dogs (and cats) co-evolving with humanity into the far future, and the way Rosenblum imagines dogs doesn’t seem so far-fetched given a few thousand years of evolution in the company of, and shaped by, humans.

      Cats, well…we’ve never shaped them, we just sort of let them be and do what they’re good at. If humanity doesn’t destroy itself before we becoming a starfaring civilization, I can imagine more evolved felines coming along for the ride, but never taking orders from us.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Guilty here. For me maybe two years or more. Yikes!! Last one might of been Chicken Soup For The Cat Lovers Soul.Life gets in the way i guess. My favorite books are old fashioned ghost stories. My favorite is a huge book of Irish ghost stories.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nice to meet another adult who reads Warriors! Have you read all the books? I liked the first arc Into the Wild best. There are so many books it’s hard to keep up. Right now a brand new, still sealed set of Dawn of the Clans is sitting on the shelf, waiting to be read. And a week ago I picked up Onestar’s Confession,
      the latest super edition, at the library. Them kids can wait, I’m reading it first!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. To Quilpy. Sadly, no. I might have to start all over again. I got distracted and never picked up next book from Barnes and Noble.My mom got sick and stopped reading. Idiot me gave them away so i might have to start again but get used books.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I read the one about Rusty the “kittypet” who leaves his home and joins a warrior clan. I don’t remember the title. I was curious about how the authors handled anthropomorphic cats and thought the story was very well written. It also handled more serious stuff like death and reproduction well, while still keeping the narrative in bounds for younger readers.

        Rusty’s pal Smudge was definitely a Buddy, happy to live his well-fed indoor existence with his snacks, toys and human.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. For anyone interested in checking it out, here’s a preview of something I’m working on, tentatively titled “Meowsters of Kung Fu”:

    The background is just a placeholder for now and all the cats won’t be tabbies in the final version, but it’s a pretty good representation of what it’s meant to be. I also made some amusing images of cats as samurai in the same cartoonish style, created with Dream and Photoshop. Preview coming soon.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Loved sci- fi when younger; Ursula K. LeGuin was great. You might enjoy “The Game of Rat and Dragon” by Cordwainer Smith, on Project Gutenberg online. Sci-fi with cats! Also, Mollie Hunt writes good cat mysteries and cat sci-fi. I used to read about a book a week, mysteries, and cat books, but the health crash changed that. If I ever return to blogging I’m planning to post a list of all the cat books I read as both research, and to make sure I wasn’t repeating what anyone else had done, when I was writing my two cat books. That’s a long term project as I estimate the numbers to be high, and they all have to be unearthed, so to speak. As for those who never read books or read one rarely, that’s very sad.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Game of Rat and Dragon is one of my favorites, introduced to me years ago by my teacher in a science fiction writing class, who also gave us Space-Time for Springers, another great cat story, as a reading assignment.

      At the time I hadn’t delved much into old school SF and didn’t appreciate how much good stuff was written in the 40s, 50s and 60s. There’s a ton of it, and not just Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein and the other big names.

      As for retreading ground visited first by other writers, I think there’s nothing wrong with it as long as homage doesn’t become parroting. It’s damn near impossible to come up with something completely original anyway, and we all remix ideas we’ve been exposed to. The trick is to make sure we take it in a new direction and leave our own stamp on it.

      I’ve been working on a hard SF story that heavily involves animals of all types in an effort to work a meaningful conservation theme into a story so it has value beyond entertainment. Hopefully I can pull it off without anyone ever thinking it’s preachy or really anything more than a plot element, so they think about it organically. We’ll see how it goes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t watched TV in years. I read instead. I seldom watch movies as the books are always better. It’s just a matter of how you choose to spend your time. Of course, having my kitty snuggled on my lap while reading makes it even more enjoyable.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Those survey results don’t come as a surprise, to be honest. Many people work hard for long hours (and often little pay), whatever free time remains is taken up with family, friends, household chores etc. Who’s got time to settle down with a book if every minute is precious? I’ve known people who couldn’t see the appeal of books.
    The local library is very important to my family and me. We’re all voracious readers (with small budgets) and visit the library constantly for new publications and order books from other libraries.
    My weekly book count is around two or three, not counting comics and online materials. Currently I’m rereading Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch police procedurals, and tartan noir writer Stuart MacBride’s books
    are a constant presence in my home. 🙂 So are non fiction books like biology, natural history and DIY. Comics
    and manga are a lifelong love of mine.
    Other commenters have mentioned the Joe Grey series of sentinent cats solving crimes in sunny California. So sorry to hear the author passed on. Like Gilda mentioned, the Warriors books by Erin Hunter are written for children, but adults can enjoy them as well.
    Lots of cat cozies by Sofie Kelly and Rita Mae Brown are available. These books concentrate more on human interaction.
    For my money the best cat themed series is Mandy Morton’s No.2 Feline Detective Agency. Morton writes about a world populated by sentinent cats instead of humans who interact with cats. Her characters are
    fascinating and the mystery murder plots are complicated. A new novel is about to be published and I can’t wait!
    This is probably more information than anyone wanted. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Reading is more than a hobby, its a passion. I dont cook or clean the house, but ALWAYS have time to read. If I dont read for at least one hour each day, it feels like I am incomplete. How many do I read each year? Hard to say, who has time to count when you could be reading. Books are wonderful, I cant imagine not having them in my life. After extensive culling of duplicates and ones I am no longer am interested in, my Library is down to about 5,000 books. But its growing again as I keep finding new authors and their works that are fascinating, as well as rediscovering classics from the 40 and newer. Some many of the original writers are now virtually unknown by younger generations.

    Liked by 1 person

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