The more we become addicted to screens, the fewer books are being bought, and more importantly, actually read from cover to cover.
In fact, both adults and young people are shunning the reading habit, losing the joy, the immersive pleasure of reading an interesting book. The decline in reading is accelerating and my guess is that by 2030, only older people – especially older 45-75 year old women – will actually read more than one book a year.
Yes, I did say one book per year. I’ll put money on that sad prediction and here’s the evidence that prompted me to come to that sad conclusion.
Academic Studies Find Young Generation Are Dumbing Down
A 2011 study by Dundee University of over 150,000 children found that the most popular book for girls aged 14-16 was The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This is a picture book, with very few words on the pages, aimed at 6-8 year olds. Sad isn’t it?
Here’s a link which drills down into the study results in more detail if you have the time.
The same team at Dundee analysed reading habits in 2016, sampling over 800,000 students. Things are getting worse. The top two books for teenage girls were the ghostwritten dross Girl Online and Girl Online – On Tour, by You Tube moron Zoella. Although she didn’t actually write the books of course.
Another popular series is The Enemy, a zombie rehash of Lord of The Flies/ 28 Days Later, where only kids aged 14 and under are left alive to battle the zombie adults. Naturally all the London kids are cool and most of the adults are stupid. Much of the dialogue is in the `Yeah…no, but yeah. Cool’ vein and the sentences are short, clipped and easy to digest for those with the attention span of a house fly.
The thing that strikes you about these popular `Young Adult’ genre books is that they’re essentially trailers for the associated merchandising and marketing machines. They are simply brands, franchises, like James Bond, The Simpsons or Marvel Comics. What’s happened is that reading has been debased by the likes of billionaire Rowling and her imitators, great stories are reduced to being mere bait, to reel in more cash from movies, games, T-shirts, sandwich boxes, fancy dress costumes or action figures.
Rowling is arguably the person most responsible for turning young readers into young – and not so young – consumers. Her genius lies not in her writing, but instead the shrewd, ruthless ability to extract as much cash from her characters as humanly possible. Rowling is the first 21st century modern writer; an impressario of her own brand, and the Wonka-esque creator of an infinite universe of spin-offs, movies, merchandise and theme parks.
Tsundoku And The Art of Looking Bookish
The Japanese word Tsundoku means `pile of unread books.’ This is something that UK adults have been keen on since the success of the utterly unreadable pile of shite that was Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, back in the 1970s. I bought it, couldn’t read it because it was drivel, and ended up parking it in my bookcase, thinking it might impress girls. It didn’t.
At 2016’s Hay Festival – Glasto for middle class literary wankers – Foyles bookshop director Sion Hamilton noted that people were buying books to decorate their homes with physical artefacts, which defined their personality. They liked books on `mindfulness,’ noted Hamilton, and this is because books about pondering your own tedious existence; goals, fears, addictions, diet, fitness level blah-blah, obviously makes you much more sexually attractive to lots of people with money.
Here are some more disturbing stats about adult reading habits.
In 2015 Kobo revealed that 60 percent of ALL e-books downloaded in the USA were NEVER opened. Not a page was read.
Pew Research reported in 2014 that a quarter of US adults hadn’t read a book all year. The number of non-readers, that is people who NEVER read any books, has tripled since 1978.
A 2016 survey of 5000 UK adults found that just 26 percent tried reading a book at night to help them get to sleep – most preferred to drink alcohol. Four years previously a healthy 46 percent of adults said they tried reading until they felt sleepy, so it is a sharp decline.
The Rise of The Kidult
The final nail in the coffin for adult literacy is the pitiful social trend known as being a `Kidult’ until the age of 40. You can see this in the booming sales of adult colouring books, where your brain can be switched off whilst you doodle. Or the tedious one joke Ladybird For Adults series, where real life is reduced to a series of 1960s style, Enid Blyton parody cartoons.
It is depressing that a generation of 25-40 year old women have bought the dreary, appallingly written Fifty Shades series, and immerse themselves in a story which is essentially Cinderella with whips, chains and butt plugs. The woman in Fifty Shades is the chattel, the possession, of the billionaire weirdo Christian Grey. This is the ultimate kidult fantasy – all your bills taken care of, new clothes and shoes bought & holidays paid for – whilst you are literally butt-fucked for pleasure. Nil responsibility, no thinking required. Just submission to your shallow fate.
What went wrong? When did we let the publishing industry decide that books should no longer inspire us to change the world, or truly open the minds of the young, with complex ideas and unfamiliar words? Where is today’s version of Satanic Verses, a book that enrages Imams with uncomfortable truths about the founding mythology of theocracy?
You cannot imagine Anthony Burgess finding a publisher today for A Clockwork Orange, as the language would be deemed `too difficult’ for the semi-literate dipsticks who struggle with Zoella. Also, there are no zombies in it. Which is crap, obvs. How could any major publisher produce Kafka’s Metamorphosis today? Except as a colouring book with a caterpillar in it of course…
Video killed the radio star, as the Buggles noted in the 80s, but Kidults have killed the great novel, and relegated brilliant science, history or political books to an academic ghetto, where a handful of smug students and hipster tutors argue over what is, or is not, tolerated by their PC sensibilities.
All we have left are screen dreams and social media soundbites – books are dying.