Reading for pleasure?

Most book-lovers will notice at some point that they’re really in the minority. Even if you work in the book industry or join a book group, you’ll still spend a lot of time around people who don’t read for pleasure.

I was personally hit by this when I saw the social networking profiles of some intelligent hipster-type friends, which included words to the effect of “I hate reading”. This was a surprise — I couldn’t help but associate loving things like art and music with a love of reading. The two often go together, but it’s no sure thing.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics just released a publication called Arts and Culture in Australia: A Statistical Overview. Even if you love reading you’d probably draw the line at statistical works, but there’s some interesting bits in there.

First of all, reading isn’t all that rare in my country. When asked to rate their favourite pastimes, 61 per cent of people surveyed nominated reading for pleasure. It’s a hell of a lot more common than synchronised swimming or quoits.

It’s what they’re reading that makes the difference. Newspapers and magazines are big choices, with 77 and 58 per cent respectively reading them once a week at least. Books (48 per cent) do much worse, but are still read weekly almost one in two.

The vast majority of people will read a few pages of something for recreation, it seems, but the real book-geeks are still going to feel in the minority because of differences in reading material. Honestly, if you’ve picked up one of the high-circulation daily newspapers in Australia, you’ll know that it’s not exactly reading — it’s more looking at pictures and large-font puns. And there’s also a difference between casual readers and book devourers. The numbers say nothing about how much your average Aussie reads in their average week.

These numbers are from a 2006 survey, so it’s strange that there’s nothing in there about the internet. After all, it’s a text-based medium and there’s more content and substance in a lot of blog posts than there is in most magazines — not specifically referring to Re:Print, obviously.

For the younger generation, though, so much of our learning and exposure to ideas has been through the web. And it hasn’t been spoilt for us the way high school English Lit has for books.