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Full text of "Who reads literature? : the future of the United States as a nation of readers"



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iNicholas Zill and Marianne Winglee 
n Foreword by Jonathan Yardley 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 



http://archive.org/details/whoreadsliteratuOOzill 



WHO READS 1 1 1 1 R VI I Rl ' 




WHO READS LITERATURE? 

The Future of the United States 
as a Nation of Readers 

Nicholas Zill 

and 

Marianne Winglce 

Foreword by 
Jonathan Yardley 



SEVEN LOCKS PRESS 

Cabin John, Md / Washington, DC 



Who Reads Literature? is Report *22 in a series on matters of interest to the arts 
community commissioned by the Research Division of the National Endowment 
for the Arts. 

Foreword © by The Washington Post. It originally appeared in The Washington 
Post on August 28, 1989. It is reprinted here with permission of the author and 
The Washington Post. 



Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Zill, Nicholas. 

Who reads literature? : the future of the United States as a nation of readers / 
Nicholas Zill and Marianne Winglee : foreword by Jonathan Yardley. 

p. cm. — (Research Division report / National Endowment for the Arts ; 22) 

ISBN 0-932020-86-0 : $9.95 

1. Books and reading — United States— Forecasting. 2. Literature- 
Appreciation — United States — Forecasting. I. Winglee, Marianne. II. Title. 
III. Series: Research Division report (National Endowment for the Arts. Research 
Division) : 22. 

Z1003.2.Z54 1990 90-33699 

028.9093— dc20 CIP 



Manufactured in the United States of America 

Designed by Giles Bayley 

Cover design by Betsy Bayley 

Typeset by Bets, LTD, Ithaca, NY 

Printed by McNaughton & Gunn, Saline, MI 



Seven Locks Press is a Washington-based book publisher of non fiction works on 
social, political and cultural issues. It takes its name from a series of lift locks 
on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. 

For more information or a catalog: 

Seven I/)cks Press 

P.O. Box 27 

Cabin John, MD 20818 

(301)320-2130 



Contents 



Foreword vii 

Introduction 1 

Chapter 1: 7 

Readers of Fiction, Poetry and Drama: 
How Many and Who Are They? 



Chapter 2: 
What the Readers Are Reading 


23 


Chapter 3: 
Factors That Affect Literary Participation 


35 


Chapter 4: 
Expanding the Audience: 
What Can Be Done? 


73 


Technical Appendix 


87 


Notes 


99 



Foreword 



Several years ago Walker Percy wondered aloud, in the pages of 
a national magazine, about the number of Americans who actual- 
ly buy, read, and discuss serious contemporary literature. It was, 
he thought, a pathetically small number, perhaps one percent of 
the adult population or even less: a serious literary community, 
that is, of somewhere between one and two million Americans, 
scarcely a consequential quantity in a culture where audiences in 
the tens of millions are routinely tuned into television sitcoms and 
sporting events. 

This gloomy assessment caused a flurry of controversy among 
the lit'ry folk; they had assumed themselves to be a far larger crowd, 
if not indeed a horde, so not merely to be disabused of this notion 
but to have the message brought by one of their own was anything 
except pleasant. But the stir came and went quickly, in the main 
because no one had any hard evidence to refute Percy's complaint 
and also because, let's face it, not many outside the literary com- 
munity were interested. 



iiii Who Reads Literature? 

Still, the questions won't go away: Who reads serious litera- 
ture in the United States, and how many of them are there? These 
are matters of continuing interest to authors, scholars, and others 
whose careers are predicated on the existence of a viable literary 
community, and they are of interest as well to those whose invest- 
ment is more overtly commercial: publishers, booksellers and 
wholesalers, journalists, and other media folk. Like any other group 
in our economy, the literary community is a market to be identi- 
fied and exploited by those with something to sell to it; thus its 
size and character are matters of more than passing interest to some 
persons and institutions that are not, themselves, necessarily mem- 
bers of it. 

In these circumstances it is useful to have a Who Reads Liter- 
ature: The Future of the United States as a Nation of Readers. As 
one can quickly surmise, it is the work of people who specialize 
in the jargon of the social sciences: Nicholas Zill, a social psy- 
chologist, and Marianne Winglee, a statistical analyst. They have 
assembled a good deal of valuable information and they have 
managed to make a degree of sense out of it. 

As so often happens when the voodoo priests of sociology, psy- 
chology and statistics work their solemn magic on human behavior, 
what this survey does is tell us, in statistics and analysis, what we 
know already through empirical observation: that Walker Percy was 
right. Zill and Winglee have their hearts in the right place and ear- 
nestly wish the evidence told them otherwise, but what their num- 
bers add up to is that (a) "the proportion [of Americans] who read 
serious literature of all forms in the course of a year seems to be 
about 7 to 12 percent of the adult population" and that (b) "litera- 
ture reading" is "stagnant or even declining, when various demo- 
graphic factors indicate that it should be increasing." 

Even that figure of 7 to 12 percent is shaky at best, for people 
who claim to be regular readers often admit, when pressed for 
specifics, that they are regular readers not of Saul Bellow and Eu- 
dora Welty but of Stephen King and Danielle Steele; if we restrict 
readers of literature to "those familliar with excellent but not widely 
known authors, such as poets Adrienne Rich or James Merrill, then 
the size of the audience for contemporary literature would become 
minuscule indeed." Not merely that but— as anyone keeping a close 



Foreword ix 

eye on literary matters should realize— to a striking degree this 
readership is defined by sex, education and income: 

. . . if we had to put together a picture of a typical reader 
of literature in the United States today, the survey data 
indicate that the person would be a middle-aged white 
female living in the suburbs of a Western or Midwestern 
city. She would have a college education, and a middle- 
to upper-middle class income that was not derived from 
her literary activities. She would be an active and involved 
individual, not a passive or reclusive one. She would not 
only read books and magazines, and occasionally try her 
hand at poetry or fiction, but also participate in a varie- 
ty of indoor, outdoor and community activities. 

And authors wonder why they're sent to book-and-author 
luncheons in Cleveland and Minneapolis! The explanation is sim- 
ple: That's where the readers are— not merely the readers of Judith 
Krantz and Belva Plain, but also the readers of Laurie Col win and 
Gloria Naylor. The perceived image of the "literary" American 
reader as a bearded male academic in a tweed jacket with leather 
patches bears only scant connection to reality; the reader who really 
supports serious American literature, such of it as there still may 
be, is far more likely to be an educated woman of a certain age 
who belongs to a neighborhood book club, buys her clothes through 
the mail from Talbots, contributes to Greenpeace, and does volun- 
teer work at the House of Ruth. 

Though Zill and Winglee do not say so, there is a reason to 
believe that this has been so for a couple of generations. But now 
literature is beginning to catch up with its readers. "It can be ar- 
gued," Zill and Winglee claim, "that the kinds of works being pub- 
lished by literary presses in the United States today are very much 
a reflection of the interests and concerns of this typical reader," 
and they are absolutely right. 

If a single generalization can be made about contemporary 
American literature, apart from its roots in the creative-writing 
schools, it would be that it is the province of middle- and upper- 
middle-class women. If in the past they were the readers, now they 
are the writers as well. The point has been made before, but it 



x Who Reads Literature? 

is worth making again: While male writers of serious literature 
under the age of 40 are notable in the United States largely for 
their absence or their lack of consequence, female writers of their 
generation are notable both for their numbers and for the quality 
of their work. Unquestionably, Zill and Winglee are right: 

The women's movement may be stimulating female in- 
volvement with literature. Whenever norms and values 
are in flux, literature has a special role to play. Litera- 
ture can explore new patterns of behavior, provide charac- 
ters that serve as role models, and give voice to both the 
exhilaration and the frustrations that pioneers experience. 
The drive for women's rights has helped to draw atten- 
tion to outstanding women writers of the past and pres- 
ent, and to open more opportunities for women in the 
publishing and promotion of literature. 

How large those opportunities will be is questionable at best: 
The world of American literature is small by any standard, and 
over the long haul is most unlikely to grow larger, in real if not 
numerical terms. But it's a woman's world now, and if we are to 
have in the next generation a literature of any consequence, it will 
be because women make it so. 

Jonathan Yardley 



This article originally appeared in The Washington Post on August 28, 1989. 
It is reprinted with the permission of the author and The Washington Post. 



Introduction 



Because the art of literature is inextricably linked to a country's 
language and history, it has traditionally played a central role in 
the culture of most nations. It is difficult to think of England with- 
out thinking of Shakespeare and Dickens, or Russia without Push- 
kin, Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Dostoyevsky. So it has been in the United 
States, at least in the past. The American cultural heritage includes 
characters, scenes, and phrases from the works of such authors 
as Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry David Thoreau, 
Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, 
Ernest Hemingway, and Eugene O'Neill, among others. 

Today, however, there is a widespread sense that the reading 
of literature does not occupy a prominent place in the lives of most 
Americans. Many observers feel that we are no longer "a nation 
of readers," but a nation of watchers: watchers of movies, televi- 
sion, videocassettes, and computer displays. Literary critic and 
newspaper columnist Jonathan Yirdley complains about the "in- 
creasing irrelevance of writing," and laments the fact that contem- 



2 Who Reads literature? 

porary American poets, from the laureate on down, are all but un- 
known to the American people. 1 University of Chicago professor 
Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind, as- 
serts that "our students have lost the practice of and taste for read- 
ing. They have not learned how to read, nor do they have the 
expectation of delight or improvement from reading." 2 Universi- 
ty of Virginia professor E. D. Hirsch sounds a similar theme in 
his book Cultural Literal contending that writers and speakers 
can no longer take it for granted that young readers and listeners 
will be familiar with works, characters, and authors that used to 
be known by all educated people. 3 There is even a new term, 
"aliteracy," that has been coined to describe the phenomenon of 
people who know how to read but choose not to do so. 4 

There is empirical evidence that seems to support these con- 
tentions. For example, one national study found that U.S. adults 
spend four times as much leisure time watching television or listen- 
ing to the radio as they do reading books, magazines, or 
newspapers. 5 There are also survey results showing the American 
public to be ignorant about basic literary matters. A 1984 Univer- 
sity of Maryland survey found that only one quarter of American 
adults knew who George Orwell, the celebrated author of the novel 
1984, was. 6 In 1986, the Educational Testing Service conducted 
a national assessment of the literary and historical knowledge of 
high school juniors. The Service found that less than 30 percent 
of them could identify Tennessee Williams as the author of A Street- 
car Named Desire, and less than a quarter knew something about 
the plot of A Catcher in the Rye. 1 Indeed, it seems possible that 
students in the Soviet Union, who are known to be avid readers 
of American literature, would do better at recognizing the works 
of these and other modern American writers than students in the 
United States. 

Other evidence indicates, however, that for both reading in 
general and literature reading in particular the situation may not 
be quite so bleak. To begin with, there are a lot of books sold in 
the United States: more than two billion each year during the 
mid-1980s, or about nine books for every person over five years 
of age. About 500 million of these are relatively inexpensive, "mass 
market" paperbacks. 8 Many of the paperbacks contain works of 



Introduction 3 

fiction, even if most of the titles might not qualify as what literary 
critics would call literature. 

Furthermore, the Educational Testing Service's assessment 
found that virtually all high school students received some train- 
ing in the appreciation of literature and are made to read at least 
a few classic works by English and American authors. As a con- 
sequence, today's students are still likely to know something about 
Shakespeare, Dickens, Hawthorne, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. 9 By 
contrast, relatively few receive formal training in the visual arts, 
music, or dance, and usually have only the foggiest of notions about 
Jackson Pollock, George Gershwin, Charlie Parker, or Martha 
Graham. 10 

But do young people go on to read literature when they leave 
school and are no longer required to do so? Of all the arts, litera- 
ture should be the one with the widest following. Only a minority 
of young people learn to read music or play an instrument, draw 
or paint proficiently, or act or dance on stage. But everyone who 
is educable is expected to learn to read and write. 11 

Assessing the State of Literature Reading 

We can infer from bestseller lists that American adults read real 
estate investment guides, personal computer manuals, diet cook- 
books, and the like. Do they also read novels, poetry, and plays? 
The number of works of fiction published in the U.S. each year— 
about 5,100 new titles or new editions 12 — suggests that some peo- 
ple still read novels and short stories. This inference is reinforced 
by the large number of fiction books sold each year— some 400 
million copies through general retail outlets alone. 13 To be sure, 
many of the fiction titles published and sold are works of genre 
fiction— thrillers, romances, science fiction, and the like— most 
of which would not be considered works of high literature. 
Nevertheless, even among the genre titles there are works written 
with considerable craft and imagination, and read with enthusiasm 
by people who could be spending their time watching movies or 
television. In addition to the large output of fiction, there are about 
1,000 volumes of poetry and drama published each year, and nearly 
2,000 books of literary criticism and literary commentary. 14 



4 Who Reads Literature? 

Clearly, the writing and reading of literature are not yet defunct. 

But we need more than publication and sales figures to form 
an accurate picture of how much literature reading is going on in 
the United States. A person can buy a book without ever getting 
around to reading it, or read a book that has not been bought, but 
borrowed from a friend or a library. And literature is published 
in periodicals as well as books. Thus we need information about 
the reading habits of representative samples of American citizens, 
including specifics about the kinds of books they read. Several large 
surveys on participation in the arts or on book reading were car- 
ried out in the United States during the 1980s for exactly this 
purpose. 

One of the most notable of these is the Survey of Public Par- 
ticipation in the Arts (SPPA), which was a nationwide survey, 
designed and sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts 
and conducted in 1982 and 1985 by the U.S. Bureau of the Cen- 
sus. Issues not covered in the SPPA are examined in data drawn 
from book industry publication and sales statistics, and from two 
other national surveys: the Arts-Related Trend Study (ARTS) car- 
ried out in 1983-1984 by the Survey Research Center at the Univer- 
sity of Maryland, and the Consumer Research Study on Reading 
and Book Purchasing done in 1983 for the Book Industry Study 
Group (BISG). 15 

There are, of course, problems in using survey data to study 
literature reading. Some of these problems are common to all sur- 
veys that ask people to report on their own behavior, while others 
are unique to studies of reading. British sociologist Peter Mann 
points out that there are problems associated with research into 
reading "which arise from the difficulty in determining what is 
meant by 'reading' and what constitutes a 'book'. " 16 Research on 
the reading of literature is even more problematic because of dis- 
agreements among experts on what should be included under the 
rubric of "literature" and the difficulty of framing general and easily 
understood questions about such reading. 

Here, the reading of literature or what we will simply call 
"reading" means the reading of novels, short stories, poetry, and 
plays. As usually defined, literature also subsumes such high-quality, 
non-fiction writing as essays, literary criticism, literary commen- 



Introduction 5 

tary, "belles lettres," biographies, and the so-called "non-fiction 
novel." However, these forms of literature were not explicitly co- 
vered in the surveys discussed here. In addition, distinctions be- 
tween art and entertainment, based on the quality or seriousness 
of the written work, are very important. Unfortunately, most of 
these surveys do not include information that permits one to say 
something about the quality of the books and magazine pieces that 
American adults are reading. This kind of information was col- 
lected in two of the other surveys described, but, even with these 
data, drawing the line between literature and mere amusement is 
no simple matter. 

Because of the great expense and practical difficulties involved 
in trying to observe directly the reading habits of large numbers 
of Americans, the survey results presented here rely on people's 
reports about the kinds of works they have read or not read within 
broad intervals of time (the last 12 months or the last 6 months). 
These reports are subject to both systematic bias and random er- 
ror. To the extent that reading literature is perceived as something 
that one "ought" to be doing, people will tend to say they have 
read a novel or short story when, in fact, they have not. They may 
also "telescope" events that happened in the past, such as reading 
a book more than a year ago, and remember them as having oc- 
curred within the reference period in question. On the other hand, 
people tend to forget about things they did more than a few weeks 
ago, especially if the event was not very important to them, and 
this could result in underreporting. Accurate reporting also depends 
on the respondent's understanding of what is meant by terms such 
as "novel" and "short story," which may pose problems for less 
educated individuals. 

Two of the surveys described here attempted to get a sense 
of the seriousness of some of these problems by asking respon- 
dents follow-up questions. The answers to these questions provide 
both further information about the works the survey respondents 
have read, and a basis for adjusting estimates of the size of the 
literature audience. 

The survey situation does, however, have certain advantageous 
aspects that are rarely encountered in everyday life: the respon- 
dent is offered anonymity; honest reporting is explicitly encouraged; 



6 Who Reads I ileralure? 

and there is no overt praise or criticism for saying that one has 
or has not done something. Moreover, a survey that uses scientif- 
ic sampling procedures and achieves a high response rate provides 
a picture of a real cross-section of the population, not just of a 
limited and self-selected subset of people. 

Even when there is an overall bias in survey reporting on an 
activity, surveys can still provide an accurate reading of the com- 
parative commonness of different forms of the activity, or of the 
relative frequency of the activity among different groups, or of 
changes in the frequency of the activity over time. It is known, 
for example, that people tend to overreport voting in local or na- 
tional elections: there are more people who say they voted than 
the total number of ballots cast. Yet surveys of voting behavior still 
give a good sense of the relative voting rates of different age, sex, 
educational, ethnic, and residential groups, and show how these 
patterns have changed over the last several decades. 

In any event, self-report surveys, with all their limitations, are 
the best source of information on literature reading that we have. 
They will remain so until government or private groups invest in 
studies that use direct observations of reading or ask for self-reports 
that cover shorter time intervals and include more people in the 
sample, and that elicit more extensive follow-up information on 
the specific titles read. 



Chapter 1 

Readers of Fiction, 
Poetry, and Drama: 
How Many and 
Who Are They? 



The 1982 and 1985 rounds of the Survey of Public Participation 
in the Arts (SPPA) took national probability samples of adults aged 
18 and over living in households in the United States. These arts 
surveys were done as supplements to larger survey programs in- 
volving panels of respondents who were interviewed every six 
months over a three-year period. In 1982, the SPPA interviewed 
17,254 people, or 89 percent of the target sample. The sample was 
about 20 percent smaller in 1985, when 13,675 people were inter- 
viewed, or 85 percent of the target sample. Three quarters of the 
interviews were done in person and the remainder by telephone. 17 
The SPPA interviews focused on attendance at arts exhibitions 
and performances, including art museum shows, classical music 
concerts, opera, jazz, plays, and musicals, and on other forms of 
arts participation, including reading literature. In addition to a core 
set of questions that were asked of all respondents, subsamples were 
asked about training in the arts, mass media usage, and other forms 
of leisure activity. A basic question on the reading of novels, short 



8 Who Reads Literature? 

stories, poetry, and plays was put to the entire sample in both sur- 
veys, but questions on other forms of literature participation and 
socialization were asked only of subsamples of about 4,200 to 5,500 
respondents in 1982, and about 2,300 respondents in 1985. 

In 1985, the SPPA found that 56 percent of a national sample 
of adults aged 18 and over, representing 95.2 million people, report- 
ed that they had read novels, short stories, poetry, or plays during 
the last 12 months. The estimated number of readers was up by 
nearly three million from the number in the 1982 SPPA. Howev- 
er, this increase was the result of population growth only. The 
proportion of adults who said they read literature was about the 
same in both years. 

The 1985 survey also asked whether respondents had read any 
kind of book or magazine during the previous 12 months. Eighty- 
six percent— representing some 146 million adults— said that they 
had. If we divide the number of people who reported reading liter- 
ature by the number who reported reading any kind of book or 
magazine, we have an estimate of literature readers as a fraction 
of all readers. In 1985, 65 percent of all adult readers in the U.S. 
read some fiction, poetry, or drama in the course of a year. 18 This 
was slightly lower than the 67 percent found in the 1982 survey, 
but the difference was within the margin of sampling error. 

The SPPA collected additional information on public partici- 
pation in one particular form of literature— poetry. In the 1985 sur- 
vey, 19 percent of the respondents— representing 32 million 
adults— reported that they had read or listened to a reading of po- 
etry during the previous 12 months. For the 1982 survey, these 
figures were 20 percent and 30 million, respectively. Again, the 
differences were not statistically significant. 

In addition to questions about reading literature, the SPPA asked 
respondents if they had worked on "any creative writings, such 
as stories, poems, plays, and the like" during the last 12 months. 
There was no requirement that the writing had been published, 
and the results of an independent follow-up study indicate that most 
of it probably was not. In the 1985 survey, 6 percent of the 
respondents — representing 10.6 million adults — said that they had 
tried to do some creative writing. This was about the same as the 
1982 results, when 7 percent— representing 10.7 million adults— 



Readers of Fiction, Poetry, and Drama 9 

answered the question affirmatively. The apparent decline in the 
proportion of writers was not statistically significant. 

Comparing SPPA Results with Other Surveys and Sales Figures 
The levels of reading reported in the SPPA are in at least ap- 
proximate agreement with the results of other nationwide surveys. 
For example, the Consumer Research Study on Reading and Book 
Purchasing conducted in 1983 for the Book Industry Study Group 
(BISG) found that 39 percent of all adult respondents had read a 
book of fiction in the last six months and half had read a book 
of some sort; and 92 percent had read magazines, periodicals, or 
newspapers over the same period. 19 Similar results have been ob- 
tained in other countries. In Britain, for instance, a number of na- 
tional studies done in the late 1970s and early 1980s found that, 
as in the U.S., roughly half the adult population reported reading 
books of one sort or another. In a 1981 Euromonitor survey of about 
2,000 people aged 16 and over, 45 percent said they were reading 
a book (any book) at the time of the survey and about 30 percent 
said they were reading a work of fiction. 20 

Despite the general agreement among readership studies, their 
estimates are typically met with incredulity by those involved with 
the writing, publishing, or support of contemporary literature. What 
literary people point out is that it is not uncommon for a work of 
serious fiction to sell fewer than 5,000 copies nowadays. Likewise, 
the circulation of most poetry magazines is counted in the low thou- 
sands or even hundreds. In 1987, the Los Angeles Times Book Re- 
view announced that it would no longer be reviewing new volumes 
of poetry because there was so little reader interest in them. Even 
the most widely read magazines that publish first-rate fiction and 
poetry— magazines like The New Yorker and The Atlantic— have 
circulations in only the 400,000-600,000 range. 21 

John P. Dessauer, a leading expert on book industry sales 
trends, has estimated that a total of 3.2 million copies of contem- 
porary literary fiction and poetry books were sold through gener- 
al retailers in 1985, representing just 0.3 percent of all books sold 
through these outlets. Sales of classic works of literature made up 
another 9.1 million units, or 0.9 percent of books sold. Thus, con- 
temporary and classic literature together constituted little more than 



10 Who Reads Literature? 

one percent of bookstore sales. 22 If there are so many readers of 
literature out there, why do the literary books and magazines not 
sell better? 

Of course, people get reading material from friends and rela- 
tives, from public libraries, in doctors' and dentists' offices, and 
from their own stock of books acquired over the years. When fic- 
tion readers surveyed in the BISG study were asked where they 
had obtained the last book they had read, less than half— 45 
percent— said they had purchased it themselves. More than a quarter 
said they borrowed the book from a friend or relative or traded 
it for another book. Another fifth had borrowed the book from 
a library, and 5 percent had received it as a gift. 23 However, even 
doubling or tripling the estimated number of literature books sold 
to account for books borrowed and exchanged would not bring the 
total close to the 95 million readers that the SPPA found. 

What does bring the survey and book sales figures into line 
with one another is incorporating the large numbers of copies of 
romances, thrillers, science fiction novels, and other works of popu- 
lar or genre fiction that are sold each year. John Dessauer esti- 
mates that total sales of "popular fiction" books through general 
retail outlets amounted to more than 322 million copies in 1985. 
And that does not include nearly 124 million in "bestseller" sales. 
(Assuming that about two-thirds of the bestsellers were fiction would 
bring the total number of popular fiction books sold through general 
retail outlets to about 400 million.) 24 

Thus, what most of the survey respondents seem to be talking 
about when they report that they have read novels or short stories 
are works of relatively light, genre fiction. Inasmuch as many of 
these works would not qualify as literature in the eyes of most liter- 
ary critics, the implication is that the adult audience for serious 
contemporary literature is probably a good deal smaller than the 
56 percent found in the SPPA. These impressions are strengthened 
by survey information on the specific titles or the kinds of works 
to which people are referring when they report that they have read 
fiction, poetry, or drama. Information on works read was not col- 
lected in the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, but rele- 
vant data are available from the Arts-Related Trend Study (ARTS) 
conducted by the University of Maryland and the Consumer Re- 



Readers of Fiction, Poetry, and Drama 1 1 

search Study on Reading and Book Purchasing done for the Book 
Industry Study Group. These data are examined later. 

What Kinds of People Read Literature? 

Demographic Characteristics 

People who report reading fiction, poetry, and drama are a 
diverse group. They are found in every segment of the U.S. popu- 
lation, except those subgroups who do not read at all. However, 
some segments of the population are overrepresented among readers 
(and writers) of literature: 

• those who have at least some college education (who make 
up 49 percent of literature readers, as opposed to 36 per- 
cent of the general population); 

• those with incomes of $25,000 and over (who comprise 
48 percent of literature readers, but 40 percent of the general 
population); 

• females (59 percent of literature readers, but 53 percent 
of the general population); 

• the middle-aged (40 percent of literature readers, but 36 
percent of the general adult population); 

• whites (85 percent of literature readers, but 81 percent of 
the general population). 

Conversely, groups that are underrepresented among litera- 
ture readers include the following: 

• those with less than a high-school education (who com- 
prise 14 percent of literature readers, but 25 percent of the 
general population); 

• those with incomes under $10,000 (16 percent of literature 
readers, 21 percent of the general population); 

• males (41 percent of literature readers, 47 percent of the 
adult population); 

• those aged 50 and older (32 percent of literature readers, 
35 percent of the general adult population); 



1 2 Who Reads Li terature? 



• 



Blacks and Hispanics (13 percent of literature readers, 17 
percent of the general population). 

As one goes from the overall population, to those who read 
books and magazines, to those who read literature, to those who 
read or listen to poetry, and to those who try to produce creative 
writing, the groups become progressively more college-educated, 
more female, and more middle-income. (Table 1.) Thus, of the self- 
described writers in the 1985 SPPA, 69 percent were college- 
educated, 63 percent were female, and 51 percent had incomes of 
$25,000 or more. (Given that most of the writing reported in the 
SPPA was probably unpublished, and that even when published, 
writing is usually not handsomely rewarded, we can be confident 
that the income of these creative writers came primarily from 
sources other than their writings.) 

The relationships between literary participation and personal 
characteristics, such as education, income, age, sex, and race, as 
well as the reasons behind the observed relationships, are exam- 
ined in greater detail later. 

Geographic Distribution 

The writing, publishing, and reading of literature are often 
thought of as Northeastern, big-city enterprises. But the arts sur- 
vey data show that these readers and writers are spread through- 
out the four major regions of the country, pretty much in line with 
the distribution of the total adult population. (Table 1.) If any re- 
gion was overrepresented, it was the West. In 1985, for example, 
the West contained 19 percent of the overall adult population, but 
had 22 percent of the readers and 33 percent of the writers of liter- 
ature. The Midwest, with 25 percent of the adult population, had 
26 percent of readers and 30 percent of writers. The South tended 
to be underrepresented in this regard. But, being the largest re- 
gion in terms of overall population, the South contained nearly a 
third of all readers and almost a quarter of all writers. 

The majority of readers and writers do live in the large 
metropolitan areas of the country. But, like the rest of the more 
educated and affluent population, most of them live in the suburbs, 
not the central cities. In 1985, the suburbs held 41 percent of the 



Readers of Fiction, Poetry, and Drama 13 



TABLE I. Size and Composition of U.S. Population of 
Writers of Literature, by Age, Gender, Ethnic Group, 
Region, and Metropolitan Residence, U.S. Adults Aged 



Adult Readers and 
Education, Income, 
18 and Over, 1985. 





Total 








Creative 




Adult 


All 


Literature 


Poetry 


Literature 




Population 


Readers 


Readers 


Readers 


Writers 


No. in population 












(in millions) 


170.6 


146.0 


95.2 


31.8 


10.6 


% of Adult Pop. 


100% 


86% 


56% 


19% 


6% 


% of All Readers 


— 


100% 


65% 


22% 


7% 


TOTAL 


100% 


100% 


100% 


100% 


100% 






Percent Distribution 




AGE 












Young (18-29) 


28% 


29% 


29% 


30% 


39% 


Middle (30-49) 


36% 


38% 


40% 


38% 


44% 


Older (50 +) 


35% 


33% 


32% 


32% 


17% 


GENDER 












Female 


53% 


54% 


59% 


60% 


63% 


Male 


47% 


46% 


41% 


40% 


37% 


ETHNIC GROUP 












White 


81% 


85% 


85% 


86% 


87% 


Black 


11% 


8% 


8% 


8% 


8% 


Hispanic 


7% 


5% 


5% 


5% 


4% 


Asian, Other 


2% 


2% 


2% 


2% 


1% 


EDUCATION 












Some College 


36% 


42% 


49% 


56% 


69% 


High School Grad 


39% 


38% 


37% 


30% 


23% 


Less than HS 


25% 


20% 


14% 


15% 


8% 


INCOME 












$25K & over 


40% 


45% 


48% 


47% 


51% 


$I0-25K 


39% 


38% 


36% 


39% 


39% 


Under $ 1 OK 


21% 


17% 


16% 


15% 


10% 


REGION 












Northeast 


21% 


19% 


21% 


17% 


13% 


Midwest 


25% 


27% 


26% 


32% 


30% 


South 


34% 


32% 


31% 


33% 


24% 


West 


19% 


23% 


22% 


19% 


33% 


RESIDENCE 












Central City 


27% 


25% 


27% 


26% 


32% 


Suburbs 


41% 


45% 


45% 


45% 


53% 


Non-Metro 


32% 


30% 


28% 


29% 


15% 



SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1985 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, tabulations by N. 
Zill and M. Winglee from public use data files. 



1 4 Who Reads Literature? 

general adult population, but 45 percent of the readers and 53 per- 
cent of the writers. The comparable figures for the central cities, 
with 27 percent of the population, are 27 and 32 percent, respec- 
tively. People living outside of metropolitan areas were under- 
represented: these areas contained 32 percent of the adult population 
in 1985, but only 28 percent of the literature readers and just 15 
percent of the writers. 

Leisure Activity Profile 

In the report on the 1983 Book Industry Study Group (BISG) 
survey of book reading habits, the following note was made: 

Book readers are often portrayed in literature, films, or 
on stage as solitary, somewhat aloof, self-absorbed per- 
sonalities whose devotion to their books seems to take 
the place of interaction with the rest of the world. This 
study, however, proves the stereotype to be nothing more 
than a myth. Far from being introverted or social out- 
casts, book readers emerge as well-rounded individuals 
active in a wide range of social and cultural activities. 25 

The BISG study found that book readers were more active than 
non-book readers in many areas, including that of socializing with 
others. 

The SPPA obtained a very similar result. In addition to infor- 
mation about literature reading and arts attendance, the SPPA col- 
lected data on participation in a variety of other leisure activities 
during the 12 months prior to the survey. When the reports on 
recreational activities were cross-tabulated with the measures of 
literary participation, it was found that people who had read fic- 
tion, poetry, and drama in the last year were more active in virtu- 
ally all areas than people who had done reading, but not of literature. 
The latter group was more active, in turn, than those who had not 
read any books or magazines at all. (Table 2.) 

Literature readers were not only more active in areas where 
one might expect them to be (e.g. , visiting arts fairs, historic sites, 
and museums; doing gardening or gourmet cooking; or taking part 
in arts and crafts activities), they were also more active in going 
to less refined amusement events: playing games and sports; tak- 



Readers of Fiction, Poetry, and Drama 15 



TABLE 2. Leisure Activity Profile of Total Adult Population, Literature Read- 
ers, Non-Literature Readers, and Non-Readers, U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over, 
1982. 







READERSHIP GROUPS 






Total 




Readers, 






Adult 


Literature 


But Not of 


Non- 




Population 


Readers 


Literature 


Readers 




Proportion of Group 


That Has Done 


LEISURE ACTIVITIES 




Activity in Last 12 Months 




Amusements 










Play card, board games 


65% 


77% 


62% 


27% 


Attend movies 


63% 


75% 


59% 


25% 


Visit amusement park 


49% 


57% 


49% 


19% 


Attend sports events 


48% 


59% 


43% 


17% 


Exercise, Sports 










Jog, exercise 


52% 


65% 


43% 


18% 


Play sports 


39% 


48% 


36% 


14% 


Camping, hiking 


37% 


43% 


34% 


14% 


Home-Based Activities 










Repair home, car 


60% 


66% 


60% 


28% 


Gardening 


61% 


69% 


53% 


34% 


Gourmet cooking 


29% 


38% 


22% 


8% 


Collect stamps, coins 


15% 


20% 


10% 


3% 


Charitable Activities 










Volunteer, charity work 


28% 


36% 


21% 


9% 


Cultural Attendance 










Visit art/crafts fairs 


39% 


54% 


28% 


10% 


Visit historic sites 


37% 


50% 


28% 


8% 


Go to zoo 


32% 


41% 


25% 


11% 


Visit science, natural 










history museums 


23% 


32% 


15% 


4% 


Art & Crafts Activities 










Weaving, needlework 


33% 


42% 


29% 


18% 


Pottery, ceramics 


13% 


17% 


9% 


3% 


Photography, video 


10% 


14% 


6% 


2% 


Painting, drawing, 










sculpture, printmaking 


10% 


14% 


6% 


2% 


Backstage theatre help 


3% 


4% 


1% 


0% 



READERSHIP GROUP SIZE 

% of Adult Population 100% 



57% 



26% 



5% 



SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1982 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, tabulations by N. 
Zill and M. Winglee from public use data files. 



1 6 Who Reads Literature? 

ing part in outdoor activities; doing home and car repairs; and con- 
tributing their time to charity. For example, three quarters of the 
literature readers had gone to the movies in the last year, whereas 
less than 60 percent of the non-literature readers and only a quar- 
ter of the non-readers had done so. Two thirds of the literature read- 
ers had done jogging or other similar exercise, whereas less than 
half of the non-literature readers, and less than a fifth of the non- 
readers, had participated in some form of exercise program. More 
than a third of the literature readers had done volunteer or charity 
work, compared with a fifth of the non-literature readers and a 
tenth of the non-readers. 

The higher activity levels of the literature readers were partly 
a function of their being better educated, more affluent, and youn- 
ger, on the average, than their counterparts. There may also have 
been an element of shared reporting bias in the associations, in 
the sense that respondents who were more likely to remember and 
report one kind of activity were more apt to remember and report 
other kinds as well. Nonetheless, there does seem to be a genuine 
link between literature reading and other cultural and recreational 
activities. 

It is not that reading literature caused the other activities, or 
vice versa. Rather, individuals seem to differ in their overall curi- 
osity and activity levels, and those who have the interests and energy 
to do one kind of cultural or recreational activity are more likely 
to do others also. In some cases, there is a common thread linking 
literature reading with other activities, as when an individual has 
an interest in the Civil War, and reads historical novels about that 
period, visits Civil War battle sites, and goes to military muse- 
ums. Even lacking a common interest, however, the operative prin- 
ciple seems to be the more, the more, rather than one activity versus 
the other. 26 

Thumbnail Sketch of the Literature Reader 

In sum, if we had to put together a picture of a typical reader 
of literature in the United States today, the survey data indicate that 
the person would be a middle-aged white female living in the 
suburbs of a Western or Midwestern city. She would have a col- 
lege education, and a middle- to upper-middle class income that 



Readers of Fiction, Poetry, and Drama 17 

was not derived from her literary activities. She would be an ac- 
tive and involved individual, not a passive or reclusive one. She 
would not only read books and magazines, and occasionally try 
her hand at poetry or fiction, but also participate in a variety of 
indoor, outdoor, and community activities. 

Obviously, there are many readers and creative writers who 
do not conform to this stereotype. Indeed, one of the heartening 
aspects of the contemporary literary scene is its ethnic and cultur- 
al diversity. Nonetheless, it can be argued that the kinds of works 
that are being published by literary presses in the U.S. today are 
very much a reflection of the interests and concerns of this typical 
reader. 

Is Literature Reading Growing or Diminishing? 

There are a number of reasons for believing that the audience for 
literature should be growing. As the U.S. population gradually 
changes, older cohorts are being replaced by those whose parents 
had more education and were more apt to have encouraged their 
children to read. The younger cohorts have also had more years 
of schooling and are more likely to have been exposed to creative 
writing courses. As shown later, all of these factors are positively 
associated with literature reading as an adult. Thus, while we could 
expect that there should be more literature reading occurring in 
the future, it is not clear that this growth will really take place. 
Taken together, the 1982 and 1985 rounds of the SPPA indicate 
that the proportion of literature readers is holding steady, while 
the number of readers is growing with the overall population. How- 
ever, because the two rounds of the survey are separated by just 
three years, we can glean only a limited picture of the longer-range 
changes that may be taking place. It should be possible to get a 
clearer view of long-term trends by viewing the SPPA findings in 
conjunction with the results of other surveys and book sales data 
from the publishing industry. 

Book Reading: Past Growth, Recent Decline 

It does seem to be the case that a greater proportion of the 
public reads books now than did so several decades ago. Data from 



18 Who Reads Literature? 

Gallup polls conducted in 1955 and 1984 show a 50 percent in- 
crease over that period in the proportion of respondents who report- 
ed that they had read a book (other than the Bible) "yesterday." 
The proportion grew from 14 to 21 percent, with much of the in- 
crease attributable to the expansion in the portion of the popula- 
tion that was college educated. 27 Data from the SPPA also show 
that middle-aged adults do more general reading and more litera- 
ture reading than older adults. (Table 3.) As demonstrated later, 
these differences seem to represent an historical increase in read- 
ing over successive generations rather than a decline in reading 
with age. But is the increase continuing? Although reading in gener- 
al still seems to be growing, there is evidence to indicate that book 
and literature reading are not. Indeed, among young adults these 
forms of reading may actually be on the decline. 

Evidence of a recent decline in book reading comes from two 
national surveys sponsored by the Book Industry Study Group 
(BISG) . The surveys were conducted in 1978 and 1983. Whereas 
overall reading (including newspapers and magazines) was stable 
over that period, there was a 5 percentage point reduction in the 
proportion of adults who had read books in the previous six months. 
More ominously, the proportion of book readers among young 
adults (ages 16-20) dropped by 13 points, from 75 to 62 percent. 28 

Trends in Book Sales 

Indications that literature reading represents a diminishing share 
of all book reading can be found in sales figures from the publish- 
ing industry. Whereas the total number of books sold each year 
in the U.S. grew from 1.5 billion copies in the mid-1970s to more 
than 2 billion in the mid-1980s, unit sales of mass market paper- 
backs remained fairly stationary, at about 500 million copies an- 
nually 29 Mass-market paperbound books are, of course, the form 
in which much popular fiction is published or reprinted. Although 
sales of higher-priced "trade" paperbounds* have grown, trade books 
in general are capturing a decreasing share of the U.S. book mar- 
ket. Technical, scientific, professional, and reference works are 



*As used here, the term "trade books" includes fiction and general-interest non- 
fiction in hard cover and higher-priced paperbound editions, juvenile books, and 
mass market paperbacks. 



Readers of Fiction, Poetry, and Drama 19 

capturing an increasing share of the market. While total annual 
book sales in the U.S. grew from $2.3 billion in 1968 to a project- 
ed $12.8 billion in 1988, the trade book segment of the market 
declined from 30 to 23 percent over the same period. 30 

Declining Reading by Young Adults 

Figures from the two SPPA studies indicated constancy, rath- 
er than decreases, in the overall proportion of literature readers 
in the population. (Table 3.) Their data suggested declines in po- 
etry and writing, but the observed changes may be due to sam- 
pling fluctuations. Among those under 30, however, there were 
statistically significant changes between the two surveys: literature 
reading dropped from 61 to 57 percent; poetry reading fell from 
24 to 20 percent; and overall reading declined from 89 to 87 per- 
cent. Although these differences may seem small, they would be- 
come considerable if the same rates of decrease were to continue 
over a longer period. 

The data from the SPPA and BISG findings reported above 
are not the only signs of less frequent reading among young adults. 
Data from an annual, school-based survey of high school seniors 
called Monitoring the Future shows a gradual diminution in the 
proportion who report reading books, magazines, or newspapers 
"almost every day," from 62 percent in 1977 to 46 percent in 
1988. 31 Thus, evidence from three different survey programs 
points to the conclusion that a decline in reading is occurring among 
successive cohorts of young adults in the United States. 

A Fluid Situation 

Why is literature reading remaining stagnant or even declin- 
ing, when various demographic factors indicate that it should be 
increasing? Reasons for the lack of growth are examined at the con- 
clusion of this monograph. We note here, though, that the situa- 
tion is a fluid one, especially as far as sales of literature are 
concerned. With so many potential readers in the population, and 
such a small fraction of them needed to make a bestseller, there 
could be short-term increases in literature sales even while a long- 
term decline in literature reading was in progress. Book sales also 
depend on economic conditions, the popularity of the current crop 



20 Who Reads Literature? 



TABLE 3. Change in Proportion of Adult Population and Population Subgroups 
That Have Read Literature, Read Books or Magazines, Read Poetry, and Done 
Creative Writing in the Last 12 Months, U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over, 1982 
to 1985. 





Literature Readers 


All Readers 








Differ- 






Differ- 


All Adults (18+) 


1985 


1982 


ence 


1985 


1982 


ence 


No. in population 






(in millions) 


95.2 


92.5 


2.7 


146.0 


138.0 


8.0 


% of Adult Pop. 


56.0% 


56.4% 


-0.4% 


85.6% 


84. 1 % 


1 .4% 


% of All Readers 


65.2% 


67.0% 


-1.8% 


100.0% 


100.0% 


— 


Population Subgroups 














AGE 














Young (18-29) 


56.8% 


60.9% 


-4. 1 % 


87.0% 


89.4% 


-2.4% 


Middle (30-49) 


60.8% 


59.7% 


1.1% 


88.6% 


87.4% 


1 .2% 


Older (50 +) 


50.3% 


49.6% 


0.7% 


81.5% 


75.9% 


5.6% 


GENDER 














Female 


63.0% 


63.0% 


0.0% 


88.3% 


85.6% 


2.7% 


Male 


48. 1 % 


49. 1 % 


-1.0% 


82.7% 


81.8% 


0.9% 


ETHNIC GROUP 














White 


59.0% 


59.8% 


-0.8% 


89.9% 


86.4% 


3.5% 


Black 


43.0% 


42.3% 


0.7% 


66.3% 


71.3% 


-5.0% 


Hispanic 


41.5% 


36.4% 


5. 1 % 


66.0% 


72.2% 


-6.2% 


Asian, Other 


51.9% 


50.2% 


1.7% 


85.3% 


80.2% 


5. 1 % 


EDUCATION 














Some College 


75.4% 


77.7% 


-2.3% 


97.2% 


96.6% 


0.6% 


High School Grad 


53.4% 


55.4% 


-2.0% 


85.9% 


88.0% 


-2. 1 % 


Less than HS 


32.6% 


31.2% 


1 .4% 


68.4% 


63.7% 


4.7% 


INCOME 














$25K & over 


66.5% 


69. 1 % 


-2.6% 


92.3% 


94.2% 


-1.9% 


SI0-25K 


51.8% 


55.0% 


-3.2% 


85.3% 


85.4% 


-0. 1 % 


Under $ 1 OK 


43.6% 


43.2% 


0.4% 


72.3% 


69.6% 


2.7% 


REGION 














Northeast 


57.0% 


58.3% 


-1.3% 


86.4% 


84. 1 % 


2.3% 


Midwest 


56.7% 


58.4% 


-1.7% 


90.3% 


88.8% 


1.5% 


South 


50.4% 


49.0% 


1.4% 


80.6% 


76.6% 


4.0% 


West 


63.7% 


63.9% 


-0.2% 


87.2% 


89.0% 


-1.8% 


RESIDENCE 














Central City 


56.5% 


56.5% 


0.0% 


85.5% 


83.4% 


2. 1 % 


Suburbs 


61.0% 


60.2% 


0.8% 


91.2% 


88.5% 


2.7% 


Non-Metro 


48.9% 


51.7% 


-2.8% 


78.4% 


78.5% 


-0. 1 % 








(continued) 







SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1982 and 1985 Surveys of Public Participation in the Arts, tabula- 
tions by N. Zill and M. Winglee from public use data files. 



Readers of Fiction, Poetry, and Drama 21 



TABLE 3. (Continued) Change in Proportion of Adult Population and Popula- 
tion Subgroups That Have Read Literature, Read Books or Magazines, Read 
Poetry, and Done Creative Writing in the Last 1 2 Months, U.S. Adults Aged 
18 and Over, 1982 to 1985. 





Poetry Readers 


Creative Writers 








Differ- 






Differ- 


All Adults (18+) 


1985 


1982 


ence 


1985 


1982 


ence 


No. in population 






(in millions) 


31.8 


32.5 


-0.7 


10.6 


10.7 


-0.1 


% of Adult Pop. 


18.6% 


19.8% 


-1.2% 


6.2% 


6.5% 


-0.3% 


% of All Readers 


21.8% 


23.6% 


-1.8% 


7.3% 


7.8% 


-0.5% 


Population Subgroups 














AGE 














Young (18-29) 


19.7% 


24.0% 


-4.3% 


8.5% 


10.5% 


-2.0% 


Middle (30-49) 


20. 1 % 


21.1% 


-1.0% 


7.6% 


6.6% 


1 .0% 


Older (50 + ) 


17.4% 


15.2% 


2.2% 


3.0% 


3.1% 


-0. 1 % 


GENDER 














Female 


21.5% 


23.0% 


-1.5% 


7.4% 


8.1% 


-0.7% 


Male 


16.2% 


16.2% 


0.0% 


4.9% 


4.7% 


0.2% 


ETHNIC GROUP 














White 


20.0% 


20.5% 


-0.5% 


6.7% 


6.6% 


0. 1 % 


Black 


13.8% 


15.1% 


-1.3% 


4.5% 


5.7% 


-1.2% 


Hispanic 


14.8% 


16.9% 


-2. 1 % 


4.0% 


7.0% 


-3.0% 


Asian, Other 


16.0% 


23.1% 


-7. 1 % 


2.4% 


6. 1 % 


-3.7% 


EDUCATION 














Some College 


28. 1 % 


3 1 .0% 


-2.9% 


1 1.5% 


1 1.6% 


-0. 1 % 


High School Grad 


14.6% 


17.9% 


-3.3% 


3.8% 


4.7% 


-0.9% 


Less than HS 


12.1% 


8.0% 


4. 1 % 


2.0% 


2.6% 


-0.6% 


INCOME 














$25K & over 


22.6% 


24. 1 % 


-1.5% 


8.0% 


7.4% 


0.6% 


$I0-25K 


19.6% 


18.8% 


0.8% 


6.4% 


6.0% 


0.4% 


Under $ 1 OK 


14.1% 


16.6% 


-2.5% 


3.2% 


5.5% 


-2.3% 


REGION 














Northeast 


17.1% 


19.5% 


-2.4% 


4.6% 


6.5% 


-1.9% 


Midwest 


21.0% 


20.7% 


0.3% 


6.6% 


5.5% 


1.1% 


South 


18.5% 


17.0% 


1.5% 


4.6% 


5.6% 


-1.0% 


West 


17.0% 


23.3% 


-6.3% 


10.0% 


9.4% 


0.6% 


RESIDENCE 














Central City 


18.5% 


20.7% 


-2.2% 


7.5% 


8.4% 


-0.9% 


Suburbs 


21.2% 


20.0% 


1.2% 


8.2% 


6.6% 


1.6% 


Non-Metro 


16.7% 


18.9% 


-2.2% 


2.8% 


4.9% 


-2. 1 % 



SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1982 and 1985 Surveys of Public Participation in the Arts, tabula- 
tions by N. Zill and M. Winglee from public use data files. 



22 Who Reads Literature? 

of authors and titles, and promotional and marketing factors. Partly 
because of the positive demographic omens mentioned above, the 
U.S. Department of Commerce is forecasting healthy growth in 
the book publishing industry through the early 1990s. 32 

The prospects for literature readership depend on whether the 
observed declines in reading among young adults continue, and 
on the balance between the older portion of the population (where 
literature reading seems to be growing) and the younger portion 
(where it seems to be declining). The current middle-aged popu- 
lation (who were products of the post-war "baby boom") is rela- 
tively large, and the young adult population (who were products 
of the "birth dearth" years) relatively small. Thus, although there 
is cause for concern about the long-term future of literature, there 
is reason for guarded optimism in the short run. 



Chapter 2 

What the Readers Are Reading 



Two studies gathered information not only on whether people had 
read fiction, poetry, or drama, but also on the specific kinds of 
works they read. The Arts-Related Trend Study asked respondents 
for specific examples of works they had read, and classified these 
according to their literary quality, and how appropriate and con- 
temporary they were. The other study, a survey done for the Book 
Industry Study Group, did not ask for specific titles, but inquired 
whether the respondent's reading included various forms and genres 
of fiction, such as mysteries, romances, science fiction, etc. These 
studies give a more detailed picture of the kinds of reading Ameri- 
cans are doing, and they permit us to make a rough estimate of 
the size of the audience for serious, as opposed to popular, literature. 

Asking for Titles 

The Arts-Related Trend Study (ARTS), a nationwide telephone 
survey on arts knowledge and participation, was conducted by the 
Survey Research Center at the University of Maryland in June 1983 



24 Who Reads Literature? 

and January 1984. 33 The sample interviewed for this study (1,077 
adults) was considerably smaller than the samples surveyed in the 
1982 and 1985 rounds of the SPPA, and its completion rate (70 
percent) was lower. But the study collected illuminating follow-up 
information on the kinds of arts-related activities reported by the 
SPPA respondents, including the titles and authors of some of the 
works of literature that each respondent had read during the previ- 
ous 12 months. When categorized and tabulated, this sample of 
works read begins to give us a picture of what people mean when 
they report that they have read literature recently. 

The proportion of respondents reporting that they had read one 
or more works of fiction, poetry, or drama during the previous 
12 months was similar to that found in the 1982 SPPA, although 
about 4 percentage points lower. In addition to the combined ques- 
tion about reading novels, short stories, poetry, or plays, the Univer- 
sity of Maryland surveys asked separately about each of these 
categories of literature. 

Novel Reading 

Forty percent of the respondents reported that they had read 
one or more novels during the last 12 months. When asked to give 
some examples of novels they had read, however, nearly a quarter 
of the self-described readers could not come up with the name of 
a specific book or author, or gave the name of a work that was 
not a novel, but a biography, self-help book, or other non-fiction 
title. Another 30 percent named only works of light, popular fic- 
tion, such as a "blockbuster" by Judith Krantz or Sidney Shel- 
don, a horror story by Stephen King, a romance by Victoria Holt, 
a western by Louis L' Amour, a novelization of one of the "Star 
Wars" films, etc. Ten percent of the novel readers named a classic 
work, such as a novel by Dickens, Tolstoy, Henry James, Mark 
Twain, or Hemingway. Seventeen percent reported reading a con- 
temporary work of some literary merit, such as William Styron's 
Sophie's Choice, Norman Mailer's Ancient Evenings , Alice Walk- 
er's The Color Purple, or John Updike's Couples. 

In terms of overall percentages, 30 percent of all U.S. adults 
reported reading novels in the last 12 months and could give at 
least one name that qualified as a title or author of an actual nov- 



What the Readers are Reading 25 

el. Only about 11 percent of all adults seemed to have read a work 
of some literary distinction * however, and only 7 percent had read 
a meritorious contemporary work. The latter figure is remarkably 
close to a figure reported by Peter Mann, namely, that 6 percent 
of British adults who were found to be reading "modern novels" 
in the 1981 Euromonitor readership survey in Great Britain. 34 

Short Story Reading 

Twenty-eight percent of the respondents to the ARTS survey 
reported reading short stories during the previous twelve months. 
However, when asked to recall the authors or titles of some of these 
stories, or the name of the magazine or book in which the stories 
appeared, many had difficulty. More than a quarter of the ostensi- 
ble story readers could not provide any descriptive information 
about the stories, or gave the titles of inappropriate works. Anoth- 
er 10 percent gave responses that could not be classified. Nearly 
45 percent more gave only the name of the magazine in which the 
story appeared, and many of these magazines were ones which con- 
tained non-fiction as well as fiction (e.g., Reader's Digest, Red- 
book, Family Circle), or non-fiction feature stories only (Newsweek, 
National Geographic). Thus, there seemed to be confusion in some 
respondents' minds as to what the term "short story" signified. 
Less than 20 percent of the story readers named authors, stories, 
or anthologies of stories that could be classified as "serious" liter- 
ature; only 5 percent named contemporary writers or stories of 
literary merit. 

In terms of overall percentages, 20 percent of all U.S. adults 
reported reading short stories and could give some descriptive in- 
formation about the stories. But only 5 percent of all adults had 
read stories that could be ascertained to be of literary quality, and 
less than two percent had read contemporary short stories of liter- 
ary value. 

Judgments about the literary merit of various works are arguable, of course. 
The categorizations reported here are those made by the staff of the Maryland 
Survey Research Center, presumably after some consultation with faculty experts 
on literature. For the most part, these categorizations seem reasonable, although 
a perusal of the actual responses, which are listed in an appendix to the survey 
report, reveals some anomalous classifications and a few coding errors. 



26 Who Reads Literature? 

Poetry Reading 

Fifteen percent of the adults surveyed in the Arts-Related Trends 
Study reported reading poetry during the past 12 months. This was 
5 percentage points lower than the proportion reported in the 1982 
SPPA * When asked to provide the names of poets or poems read, 
or the title of the magazine or book in which the poems were found, 
nearly 70 percent of the poetry readers were able to provide some 
corroborative detail. But almost a quarter gave only the name of 
a mass-circulation magazine such as Parade or Reader's Digest, 
or named examples of less serious forms of verse, such as "Gross 
Limericks," popular song lyrics, or poems written for children. 
On the other hand, close to 40 percent of the poetry readers named 
poets, poems, and/or poetry anthologies of literary distinction, in- 
cluding works by T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Carl 
Sandburg, Ezra Pound, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert W. Service, Henry 
Wadsworth Longfellow, and William Carlos Williams. Very few 
of the names or poems mentioned were those of serious living poets, 
however. 

As a proportion of the total population, 10 percent of U.S. adults 
reported reading poetry and could provide some information on 
what or where poems were read. Six percent had read poems of 
clear literary merit, mostly modern or traditional classics. One per- 
cent or less had read serious contemporary poetry. 

Play Reading 

Although only 5 percent of the adults surveyed in the ARTS 
reported reading a play during the previous 12 months, 91 percent 
of them could name a specific play or dramatist, or both. More- 
over, 80 percent of the authors and works mentioned seemed to 
have literary merit, although less than 10 percent of them were works 
of living playwrights. Examples of names or plays mentioned in- 
clude those of Shakespeare, Shaw, Tennessee Williams, Brecht, 
Lillian Hellman, Tom Stoppard, and Ntozake Shange. In terms of 
the total adult population, 5 percent reported reading plays and could 



*The difference suggests that follow-up questions may have had a suppressing 
effect on the reporting of literary participation. Because this kind of effect is com- 
mon in survey research, it is good practice to ask all screening questions before 
asking any follow-up questions. This was not done in the ARTS survey. 



What the Readers are Reading 27 

give the name of a specific play or playwright read. Four percent 
had read drama of literary merit, but less than one percent had 
read serious contemporary dramas. 

Table 4 summarizes the ARTS findings on novel, short story, 
poetry, and play reading. Unfortunately, the published results do 
not indicate how much overlap there was across these types of read- 
ing, so estimates of the total size of the audience for works of literary 
merit can only be approximate. Depending on the degree of over- 
lap assumed, the total proportion of people reading works of mer- 
it could range from a little more than 10 percent up to 25 percent 
or more, whereas the proportion reading contemporary works of 
merit could range from 7 to about 10 percent. 

Creative Writing 

The ARTS survey also asked more detailed questions than the 
SPPA about creative writing activity. The initial question was, "In 
the last 12 months, have you taken any lessons in creative writing 
or done any creative writing for your own pleasure"? If the respon- 
dents indicated that they had, they were asked what types of work 
they had tried to write (stories, novels, poetry, or plays) and whether 
they had written anything that had been published. All ARTS 
respondents were also asked if they felt they were able to do crea- 
tive writing. 

Nine percent of the arts respondents said they had written or 
taken writing lessons in the last 12 months. This was higher than 
the 7 percent who reported doing creative writing in the 1982 SPPA, 
but the comparable SPPA question did not include writing lessons. 
Poetry writing was the most common form mentioned; it was at- 
tempted by 6 percent of adults (or 62 percent of those who did 
some writing). Work on stories or novels was reported by 4 per- 
cent of adults (or 38 percent of the writers). Play writing, which 
was reported by one percent of the adults (or 9 percent of the 
writers), was least common. 

Only about a quarter of the writers, or 2 percent of all respon- 
dents, said they had had something published. This included pub- 
lication in relatively informal outlets such as school magazines, 
organizational newsletters, etc. More than a fifth of all the ARTS 



28 Who Reads Literature? 



TABLE 4. Proportions of U.S. Adult Population That Report Reading Various 
Forms of Literature in Last 12 Months, and Proportions Reading Works of 
Literary Merit, U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over, 1983-84. 





Have Read 










Works in This 


Can Provide 


Mention 


Mention Con- 




Form in 


Information 


Work or 


temporary 




Last 12 


About 


Author of 


Work of 


Literary Form 


Months 


Works Read 
30% 


Literary Merit 
1 1% 


Merit 


Novels 


40% 


7% 


Short Stories 


28% 


20% 


5% 


1% 


Poetry 


15% 


10% 


6% 


1% 


Plays 


5% 


5% 


4% 


>l% 



SOURCE: Developed from data in: Robinson, John R. et at., Americans' Par- 
ticipation In The Arts: A 1983-84 Arts-Related Trend Study. Final 
Report, College Park, MD: University of Maryland Survey Research 
Center, 1986. 



What the Readers are Reading 29 

respondents— 22 percent— felt that they had the ability to do crea- 
tive writing. 

Varieties of Fiction 

Information about the kinds of works that are read by literature 
readers was also collected in the 1983 Consumer Research Study 
on Reading and Book Purchasing conducted for the Book Indus- 
try Study Group. 35 Instead of asking for specific titles and 
authors, the BISG survey inquired about categories of fiction read, 
covering various genres of novels, as well as short stories, poetry, 
and drama under the fiction rubric. There was no attempt to evaluate 
the literary quality of the works. The survey used a six-month 
reporting period, as opposed to the 12-month period used in the 
SPPA or ARTS questionnaires. The BISG questions about the types 
of fiction read were only asked of those who reported reading at 
least one fiction book during the reference period. 

Genre Fiction 

The BISG survey found that the novel was the most widely 
read form of fiction. However, much of the novel reading was spread 
across a variety of popular genres that are not usually thought of 
as "literary," though they occasionally produce individual works 
or authors of enduring quality. Each genre accounted for between 
10 and 40 percent of all fiction readers, or about 4 to 15 percent 
of all adults. As indicated in Table 5, many readers had read works 
in more than one genre during the previous six months. 

Classics, Historical, and Modern Novels 

The survey also asked about the reading of classic works of 
fiction, "historical novels," and "modern dramatic novels" that 
did not fall into one of the genre categories. Classics had been read 
by 19 percent of fiction readers, or about 7 percent of all adults. 
Comparable figures for historical novels were 35 percent of fic- 
tion readers, or 14 percent of adults, and for modern dramatic nov- 
els, 31 percent of fiction readers, or 12 percent of adults. Of course, 
the latter two categories encompass commercial bestsellers as well 
as works with serious literary intentions. 



30 Who Reads Literature? 



TABLE 5. Proportions of U.S. Adult Population That Report Reading Various 
Forms or Genres of Fiction Books in Last Six Months, U.S. Adults Aged 16 
and Over, 1983. 





Have Read Books of This Form or 




Genre in the 


Last Six Months 




Percent of All 


Percent of All 


Literary Form 


Fiction Readers 


Adults (16+) 


All Forms/Genres 


100% 


39% 


Novels 






Action/Adventure 


37% 


14% 


Mystery/Detective 


35% 


14% 


Historical 


35% 


14% 


Modern Dramatic 


31% 


12% 


Romance (Traditional) 


28% 


11% 


Science Fiction 


21% 


8% 


Spy/lnternat. Intrigue 


19% 


7% 


Classics 


19% 


7% 


Fantasy 


17% 


7% 


Romance (Sexy) 


13% 


5% 


Romance (Gothic/Hist.) 


13% 


5% 


Occult/Supernatural 


12% 


5% 


Westerns 


10% 


4% 


War Books 


10% 


4% 


Juvenile/Children's 


26% 


10% 


Short Stories 


22% 


9% 


Humor/Satire 


20% 


8% 


Poetry 


11% 


4% 


Plays 


8% 


3% 



SOURCE: Market Facts, Inc. & Research & Forecasts, Inc. 1983 Consumer Re- 
search Study On Reading And Book Purchasing. Vol. I: Focus On 
Adults. New York: Book Industry Study Group, Inc., 1984. 



What the Readers are Reading 31 

Poetry, Short Stories, Drama 

The BISG study found that 22 percent of fiction readers had 
read a book of short stories in the previous six months. Eleven 
percent had read one or more poetry books and 8 percent, one 
or more books of plays. As a fraction of all respondents, the propor- 
tions were about 9 percent for short stories, 4 percent for poetry, 
and 3 percent for drama. The latter percentages are in reasonably 
good agreement with those found in the ARTS survey to have read 
works of literary merit, especially if the difference in reference 
periods is taken into account. 

Audience Size Reconsidered 

The results summarized above indicate that literature experts are 
correct when they say that the proportion of people who read fine 
literature is far smaller than the 56 percent who report reading fic- 
tion, poetry, or drama in the course of a year. If the SPPA esti- 
mate of the number of literature readers were taken at face value, 
it would mean that literature had a substantially larger audience 
than most of the other arts. For example, the SPPA estimated that 
some 95 million people read literature in 1985. This was over two- 
and-a-half times more than the number projected to have visited 
art museums (37 million), and over four times more than the esti- 
mated number of people who attended classical music performances 
(22 million). Indeed, the ostensible number of literature readers 
was nearly as great as the 101 million who reported attending mo- 
vies within a year. (Interestingly, the combined number of adult 
trade books and mass market paperbacks sold yearly in the U.S.— 
some 1.1 billion in 1985 — is about the same as the total number 
of movie tickets sold annually.) 36 

What the ARTS and BISG findings show, however, is that many 
of the professed literature readers read only genre fiction or sen- 
timental verse, the literary equivalents of TV "shoot-em-ups" and 
sitcoms, or "Top 40" popular music. The proportion who read 
serious contemporary literature of all forms in the course of a year 
seems to be about 7 to 12 percent of the adult population (the 12 
percent figure coming from the proportion who reported they had 
read "modern dramatic novels" in the BISG survey). This would 



32 Who Reads Literature? 

still make the audience for literature comparable to that for some 
of the other arts, roughly the equivalent of the 16 million people 
who attend jazz performances or the 20 million who see live dra- 
ma each year. 

At the same time, the size of the audience for literature could 
be two-to-three times larger, depending on where one draws the 
line between "entertainment" and "art." If one is prepared to take 
seriously popular authors, such as horror-story writer Stephen King, 
poet-illustrator Shel Silverstein, humorist Garrison Keillor, or mys- 
tery writer John D. MacDonald, as at least some critics are, then 
the public for literature might be more like a fifth to a quarter, 
rather than a tenth, of the adult population. If, on the other hand, 
one restricted the approved following to those familiar with excel- 
lent but not widely known authors, such as poets Adrienne Rich 
or James Merrill, then the size of the audience for contemporary 
literature would become minuscule indeed. 

A few points should be made here. First, it is difficult to make 
a precise estimate of the overall size of the literary audience from 
the ARTS and BISG studies, because their published reports do 
not contain necessary summary tabulations, and because of am- 
biguities and flaws in the coding and tabulation procedures used 
in the studies. It would certainly be desirable to conduct a survey 
that made more careful use of the follow-up questions developed 
in these studies, with a larger sample and expert advice on the cod- 
ing of various works and authors. Such a study, however, would 
not resolve arguments over what is art and what is mere enter- 
tainment. 

Second, in attempting to gauge the size of the audience for 
literature, it does not seem appropriate to limit the audience to those 
who read serious contemporary works, any more than one would 
wish to limit one's definition of the audience for classical music 
to those who attend Steve Reich or Milton Babbitt concerts, or the 
audience for visual art to those who come out for the latest exhibit 
at the Hirshhorn or Guggenheim. In each of these publics, there 
is a substantial segment of followers who stick with time-honored 
works and are not terribly receptive to the new and challenging. 
It hardly seems fair or wise to exclude these individuals from the 
audience counts. Their skeptical judgments about the worth of con- 



What the Readers are Reading 33 

temporary writers, composers, and painters will, if past experience 
is any guide, be supported in many instances by art historians of 
the future. In other cases, of course, the new and sometimes diffi- 
cult works of today will become part of tomorrow's established 
canon. 

Third, in estimating the size of the audience for poetry, the 
distinction between those who read classic works only and those 
who read contemporary as well as classic literature makes a sub- 
stantial difference. If one includes those who read well-established 
poetry, then the ARTS and BISG surveys indicate that the audience 
for serious poetry is about six percent of the adult population. This 
is larger than the sizes of the audiences for ballet or opera. On 
the other hand, if one restricts the audience to those who read con- 
temporary ''literary" poetry, then, as noted above, the poetry au- 
dience amounts to one percent or less of the population. 

Finally, looking at the empty rather than the full portion of 
the glass, it is striking how many adults there are in the American 
public who can read, are reasonably educated, and have been ex- 
posed to at least some literature in the course of their schooling, 
but who read nothing or virtually nothing in the way of fiction, 
poetry, or drama on even an occasional basis. The 1985 SPPA found 
that at least 44 percent of the adult population had not read a sin- 
gle literary work in the course of a year. The majority of these 
people— 62 percent— were high school graduates, and one in five 
had some college education. Similarly, the BISG study found that 
42 percent of the adult population were non-book readers, in the 
sense that they had read newspapers or magazines, but not a sin- 
gle fiction or non-fiction book during the previous six months. Un- 
fortunately, as noted earlier, the non-book-reading segment of the 
population appears to be growing. 



Chapter 3 

Factors That Affect 

Literary Participation 



There are, from the start, a number of demographic characteris- 
tics that affect a person's level of participation in the literary arts. 

Education 

In the 1985 SPPA data, if someone had not completed high 
school, the odds were about two-to-one that he or she had not read 
a novel, short story, poem, or play in the last 12 months. If the 
person had a high school diploma, then the chances became slightly 
better than fifty-fifty. But if the person had completed one or more 
years of college, the odds were three-to-one in favor of him or her 
being a literature reader. 

Obviously, education was not a perfect predictor of literary 
participation. Some people with relatively little education were regu- 
lar readers of fiction, poetry, or drama, whereas a significant 
minority of those with college training did not ordinarily read any 
works of literature. Nevertheless, of the basic background varia- 
bles, education was the one most closely correlated with literature 
reading. 



36 Who Reads Literature? 

Education was also associated with poetry reading and crea- 
tive writing, but not as strongly. (Table 6.) The proportion of peo- 
ple who had read or listened to poetry was more than twice as large 
among the college educated as among those with less than a high 
school education. And the proportion who had tried to do crea- 
tive writing was five times greater. But even among those with 
graduate degrees, only a minority had read any poetry, and an even 
smaller minority had done any creative writing in the last 12 months. 

A person's educational attainment tends to be associated with 
other social characteristics, such as his or her income level and 
ethnic background. Thus, when education was combined with these 
and other factors in an equation, the unique contribution of edu- 
cation to the prediction of literary participation was somewhat 
diminished* But education still remained the premier predictor, sur- 
passing income and race, as well as age, sex, and residence. It 
was also the leading predictor of poetry reading and creative writing. 

There are a number of reasons why education should be a good 
predictor of literary participation. The more years of education a 
person has had, the more likely it is that he or she has been ex- 
posed to literature in school and has had instruction in its ap- 
preciation. 

In addition, years of educational attainment could be used as 
a proxy measure for intelligence. More intelligent individuals are 
more likely to be avid and adept readers, to recognize and enjoy 
good writing, and to share the interests and concerns of those who 
write literature. Educated persons are also more likely to be ex- 
posed to reviews, magazine and newspaper articles, public televi- 
sion and radio programs, and the recommendations of friends. 
Finally, more educated persons may feel social pressure to read 
works of literature in order to be able to converse knowledgeably 
about them with colleagues and friends. 

As noted earlier, the association between educational attain- 
ment and literature reading, and the rising levels of general edu- 
cation in the United States, would lead one to expect that the amount 
of literature reading is increasing. But other influences can over- 



*Results of the predictive equations, which made use of a technique called logis- 
tic regression analysis, are shown in greater detail in the Technical Appendix. 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation 37 



TABLE 6. Relationship Between Education and Income Levels and Literature 
Reading, Poetry Reading, Creative Writing, and Book or Magazine Reading 
in Last 12 Months, U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over, 1985. 





Proportion of Popu 


lation Group 


Who . . . 








Did 


Read 




Read 


Read 


Creative 


Books, 




Literature 


Poetry 


Writing 


Magazines 


ALL ADULTS 


56.0% 


18.6% 


6.2% 


85.6% 


EDUCATION GROUPS 










Some College 


75.4% 


28.1% 


1 1 .5% 


97.2% 


High School Grad 


53.4% 


14.6% 


3.8% 


85.9% 


Less than HS 


32.6% 


12.1% 


2.0% 


68.4% 


INCOME GROUPS 










$25K & over 


66.5% 


22.6% 


8.0% 


92.3% 


$10— 25K 


51.8% 


19.6% 


6.4% 


85.3% 


Under $ 1 OK 


43.6% 


1 4. 1 % 


3.2% 


72.3% 



SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1985 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, tabulations by N. 
Zill and M. Winglee from public use data files. 



38 Who Reads Literature? 

ride the effects of education on social behavior and produce trends 
that are different from the expected ones. Voting is a good exam- 
ple of this. As with the propensity to read literature, the propensi- 
ty to vote is positively correlated with educational attainment. But 
rising education levels have not resulted in increased levels of vot- 
er turnout, at least not in recent decades. Moreover, as critics of 
the educational system are quick to point out, the rise in general 
education levels has been accompanied by some decay in educa- 
tional quality. A high school diploma does not necessarily mean 
as much as it once did in terms of skills mastered and knowledge 
gained. 

Income 

Like education, an individual's income level is significantly 
associated with literary participation. Among persons in the 1985 
SPPA who had annual incomes of $25,000 or more, the odds were 
about two-to-one that they had read a work of fiction, poetry, or 
drama in the previous twelve months. For those with incomes be- 
tween $10,000 and $25,000, the odds dropped to just over fifty- 
fifty. And among those with incomes below $10,000, the chances 
were about six-to-four against their being literature readers. 

Income level was also correlated with the general reading of 
books and magazines, and with the reading of poetry and creative 
writing. (Table 6.) However, the relationships between income and 
poetry reading, and income and creative writing, were considera- 
bly weaker than the relationship with overall literature reading. For 
example, those with incomes of $25,000 and over were only about 
one-and-a-half times more likely to have read poetry than those 
with incomes below $10,000. 

A person's income is associated with his or her education level 
and ethnic group, so some of the correlation between income and 
literary participation could be due to these factors, rather than to 
income per se. When income was combined with the other demo- 
graphic factors in a logistic regression equation * the amount of 
predictive power contributed by income, over and above that provid- 



*This equation allows a "better fit" of the data by fitting them into a curve rather 
than a straight line. 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation 39 

ed by education, turned out to be slight. Income was still a sig- 
nificant, though weak, predictor of overall literature reading, but 
not of poetry reading or creative writing. 

Thus, those with higher incomes are more likely to be litera- 
ture readers than those with lower incomes, primarily because the 
former tend to be more educated than the latter. The fact that they 
also have more money to buy books and more leisure time to en- 
joy them may also play a role, but apparently not a major one. 

Gender 

Another basic characteristic that has a bearing on literary par- 
ticipation is a person's gender. If a respondent in the 1985 SPPA 
was a woman, the odds were nearly two-to-one that she had read 
a novel, short story, poem, or play in the previous 12 months. For 
men, by contrast, the odds were less than fifty-fifty. Women were 
also more likely to have read books and magazines in general, to 
have read poetry, and to have done creative writing, though all of 
these relationships were considerably weaker than the association 
with literature reading. (Table 7.) 

When the demographic variables were combined in predic- 
tive equations, gender proved to be the second-strongest factor (after 
education) in separating literature readers and poetry readers from 
non-readers. It was the fourth-strongest factor (after education, age, 
and non-metropolitan residence) in differentiating creative writers 
from non-writers. 

In the BISG survey on reading, women were found to be much 
more likely than men to be frequent book readers. Gender was 
also associated with the amount of reading done: women were more 
likely to be readers of fiction, and men of non-fiction. Men were 
more apt to be readers of newspapers and magazines, but not books. 
As might be expected, certain genres of fiction, such as romances, 
had a largely female following, whereas other genres, such as ac- 
tion/adventure stories and science fiction, had readerships that were 
predominantly male. 37 

It would seem that both cultural and biological factors are at 
work in accounting for the gender differences in literary partici- 
pation. As discussed later, there is evidence that girls get more 
encouragement to read from their parents. But there is also evi- 



40 Who Reads Literature? 



TABLE 7. Relationship Between Gender and Age/Year of Birth and Litera- 
ture Reading, Poetry Reading, Creative Writing, and Book or Magazine Reading 
in Last 12 Months, U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over, 1985. 





Proportion of Popu 


lation Group 


Who . . . 








Did 


Read 




Read 


Read 


Creative 


Books, 




Literature 


Poetry 


Writing 


Magazines 


ALL ADULTS 


56.0% 


18.6% 


6.2% 


85.6% 


GENDER 










Female 


63.0% 


21.5% 


7.4% 


88.3% 


Male 


48.1% 


16.2% 


4.9% 


82.7% 


AGE/BIRTH YEAR 










Young (18-29) 


56.8% 


19.7% 


8.5% 


87.0% 


Middle (30-49) 


60.8% 


20. 1 % 


7.6% 


88.6% 


Older (50 +) 


50.3% 


17.4% 


3.0% 


81.5% 



SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 

1985 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, tabulations by N. 
Zill and M. Winglee from public use data files. 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation 41 

dence of innate differences between the sexes in the development 
of reading skills and interests. Studies of standardized reading tests 
given to elementary- school children have found that, on the aver- 
age, girls read earlier, better, and more than boys do. Girls do not 
surpass boys in all verbal areas: boys do as well or even slightly 
better on vocabulary tests. But girls excel on tests of reading profi- 
ciency, and fewer girls encounter difficulties in learning to read. 38 
Girls also write letters earlier and express more positive attitudes 
toward reading stories. 39 

For reasons that are not well understood, women lose much 
of their advantage over men on reading tests by late adolescence 
and young adulthood. 40 Among college-bound high school stu- 
dents, for example, men score slightly higher than women on the 
verbal portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), including the 
reading comprehension subtest. On the other hand, women do 
slightly better on the Test of Standard Written English that is giv- 
en as part of the SAT, as well as on the English Composition 
Achievement Test. Young women in high school and college con- 
tinue to do more reading than men, especially reading for pleas- 
ure, and to know more about literature. Thus, nearly twice as many 
women as men take the College Board Achievement Test in Liter- 
ature, and the mean score attained by women is significantly higher 
than that for men. 41 

It might also be argued that women may be drawn to litera- 
ture because of a greater interest in human character development 
and social interaction patterns. In the past, women were raised in 
a manner that called for sensitivity to other people's feelings and 
motivations, and for getting one's way through persuasion rather 
than assertiveness. Obviously, much of literature is concerned 
with how people behave in various situations and why they act as 
they do. 

It is interesting to speculate about what effects the women's 
movement has had and will have on female involvement with liter- 
ature. Certainly, the drive for women's rights has helped to draw 
attention to outstanding women writers, and to open more oppor- 
tunities for women in the publication and promotion of literature. 
One would also think, given the changes that women as a group 
have been undergoing, that many would want to read or write about 



42 Who Reads Literature? 

their experiences and feelings in fictional, poetic, or dramatic forms. 

Whenever norms and values are in flux, literature has a spe- 
cial role to play. Literature can be a vehicle for exploring new pat- 
terns of behavior and interaction. It can provide fictional characters 
that serve as role models to real people going through similar strug- 
gles. And it can give voice to both the exhilaration and the frus- 
trations that many pioneers experience. Although many of the 
best-known feminist authors, such as Betty Friedan and Germaine 
Greer, are non-fiction writers, feminist issues and themes appear 
in a broad range of contemporary fiction, including the works of 
writers as disparate as Mary Gordon, Erica Jong, and Francine 
du Pies six Gray. 

Even the emergence of a new type of popular romance novels 
with a more overtly sexual content can be at least partly attributed 
to the women's movement, in the sense that the movement has made 
it easier for women to be open about their sexuality. However, as 
more women become involved in traditionally male career paths, 
one wonders whether their reading patterns will become more like 
the instrumental, non-fiction oriented reading of men. 

Age 

The year in which a person was born has relevance to literary 
participation, both because it represents where the individual is 
in his or her life cycle and because it indicates the historical peri- 
od in which the person was raised. If literary participation pat- 
terns are changing over time, the change should be reflected in 
differences between age groups. The problem is in disentangling 
historical change from aging effects. This is not completely possi- 
ble with data from a single point in time, or even from two closely 
spaced surveys. Some reasonable inferences can usually be drawn 
about what is occurring, however, depending on the pattern of 
change actually observed. 

The wide range of birth years represented in the 1985 SPPA 
was broken down into three broad groups: young adults (ages 18-29, 
or birth years 1956-1967); middle-aged adults (ages 30-49, or birth 
years 1936-1955); and older adults (ages 50 and older, or birth years 
1935 and earlier). When this division was made, a relatively weak 
relationship was found between age and literary participation: par- 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation 43 

ticipation declined from the middle to the older years. The propor- 
tion reading literature, for example, decreased from 61 percent in 
the middle years to 50 percent in the older years. Similar declines 
were observed in creative writing, general reading, and poetry read- 
ing, although the last difference was very slight. (Table 7.) Differ- 
ences between the middle-aged and younger groups were so small 
as not to be statistically significant, but were generally in the direc- 
tion of the middle-aged reading more than young adults. Creative 
writing was an exception, being higher in the young group, but 
by very little. 

Because education levels have been rising over time, age and 
year of birth are correlated with educational attainment. Older 
groups have lower education levels, on the average, than younger 
age groups. Age and birth year are also somewhat correlated with 
income levels (because middle-aged individuals tend to earn more 
money than younger or older people) and with the sexual compo- 
sition of the group (because women tend to live longer than men). 
When education and other demographic variables were entered into 
predictive equations along with age (which was treated as a con- 
tinuous variable in the equations), the unique contribution of age 
to the process of differentiating readers from non-readers was es- 
sentially eliminated. 

Thus, the decline in literature reading with age can be explained 
by the correlation between birth year and education level. Older 
people read less than younger ones, not because they are older (and 
hence more infirm, or less energetic, or some such), but primari- 
ly because they are less educated. This rinding has an important 
implication for future consumption. Future cohorts of older Ameri- 
cans, being more educated than the senior citizens of today, will 
presumably be reading more literature. It may also be that the to- 
tal volume of literature reading will increase, although the increase 
in reading among the elderly may be offset by declines in reading 
among young adults. 

The apparent negative effect of age on literary participation 
was not eliminated in the equation that differentiated creative writers 
from non-writers. Although the effect of age was still quite weak, 
it was the second-best predictor in the equation, after education. 
This suggests that age as such has some debilitating or discourag- 



44 Who Reads Literature? 

ing effect on the production of imaginative writing. In her book 
The Coming of Age, Simone de Beauvoir concludes that great age 
is generally not conducive to literary creation, especially to the 
writing of novels. She attributes this to the waning with age of the 
"alacrity" and strength that imaginative writing requires. But de 
Beauvoir also mentions notable exceptions to the rule, famous 
authors like Sophocles, Cervantes, Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Henry 
James, who created some of their finest works in later life. 42 

The decline in amateur writing with age seems unfortunate 
because older individuals, having experienced more, should have 
more to write about. Once retired, they also have more time to 
practice the craft of writing. Perhaps, as attitudes about what is 
possible and appropriate for older people to do change, the de- 
cline in writing associated with increased age will change as well. 

Race/Ethnicity 

Blacks and Hispanics are less likely to have read literature than 
whites. The 1985 SPPA data show that the odds on someone who 
was Black or Hispanic having read a novel, short story, poem, or 
play in the previous 12 months were about 40-60 against. For non- 
minority whites, on the other hand, the odds were nearly 60-40 
in favor. In addition, whites were about 50 percent more likely than 
Blacks or Hispanics to have read poetry or done some creative writ- 
ing. (Table 8.) The rates for individuals from other minority groups 
(predominantly Asians) generally fell between those of whites and 
Blacks and Hispanics. 

Educational Handicaps. Especially among older adults, 
minority ethnic status is associated with lower educational attain- 
ment and income levels in our society, despite the dramatic im- 
provement in educational and employment opportunities for 
minorities in the last three decades. Substantial fractions of Black 
and Hispanic adults are either illiterate or "aliterate." Many 
Hispanic-Americans and some Asian-Americans are literate in their 
native languages, but not in English. A finding from the 1985 SPPA 
illustrates these problems: one third of Blacks and Hispanics had 
not read any kind of book or magazine in the last year. The com- 
parable proportion among white adults was one tenth. 

But when education, income, and other demographic factors 



Factors That Affect literary Participation 45 



TABLE 8. Relationship Between Ethnic Group Membership and Literature 
Reading, Poetry Reading, Creative Writing, and Book or Magazine Reading 
in Last 12 Months, U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over, 1985. 





Proportion 


of Populate 


Dn Group 


Who . . . 








Did 


Read 




Read 


Read 


Creative 


Books, 




Literature 


Poetry 


Writing 


Magazines 


ALL ADULTS 


56.0% 


18.6% 


6.2% 


85.6% 


ETHNIC GROUPS 










Whites 


59.0% 


20.0% 


6.7% 


89.9% 


Blacks 


43.0% 


13.8% 


4.5% 


66.3% 


Hispanics 


41.5% 


14.8% 


4.0% 


66.0% 


Asians, Others 


51.9% 


16.0% 


2.4% 


85.3% 



SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1985 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, tabulations by N. 
Zill and M. Winglee from public use data files. 



46 Who Reads Literature? 

were entered along with race into equations predicting literary par- 
ticipation, the predictive power of race was considerably reduced. 
(Because of the relatively small size of the Hispanic and Asian sub- 
samples, only a variable differentiating Black from non-Black 
respondents was entered into the predictive equations.) In the equa- 
tions differentiating poetry readers from non-readers, and crea- 
tive writers from non-writers, race added nothing to the prediction. 
In the equation predicting overall literature reading, race remained 
a significant, though weak, predictor. Similar results were obtained 
in analyses with the data from the 1982 SPPA. 

Socialization and skill differences. Minority individuals are 
less likely to have been exposed to literature as children. Educa- 
tional research studies have found that minority children, espe- 
cially Hispanics, tend to have fewer reading materials in their homes 
than non-minority youngsters, and are less apt to have been read 
to by their parents. 43 Consistent with this, Hispanic adults in the 
SPPA reported that their parents generally had not encouraged them 
to read books that were not required for school. In addition, the 
quality of the formal education many minority individuals receive 
is inferior to that received by the typical non-minority individual. 
Thus, in the SPPA, fewer Black and Hispanic respondents report- 
ed that they had been exposed to lessons in creative writing. 

Furthermore, even though the basic reading skills and educa- 
tional attainment levels of minority young people have risen sub- 
stantially since the 1960s, standardized tests still show that the 
reading proficiency of both Black and Hispanic youths lags behind 
that of non-minority youths with equivalent years of education. In 
1988, for example, the National Assessment of Educational Pro- 
gress found that only about one-quarter of Black or Hispanic 
17-year-olds could read on an adept level, whereas nearly half of 
the white 17-year-olds were adept readers. 44 

Availability of minority literature. In addition to these educa- 
tional barriers, there is the question of the availability of fiction, 
poetry, and drama that is of interest to minority adults and reflects 
their concerns and cultural traditions. The works of a few con- 
temporary Black writers, such as Alex Haley, Toni Morrison, 
Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker, and August Wilson, have received 
widespread public attention in recent years. And some older Black 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation 47 

writers like Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, 
Richard Wright, and Lorraine Hansberry, have received recogni- 
tion because of the enduring value of their work, and as a result 
of "Black History Month" and other efforts to raise public con- 
sciousness about the contributions of Blacks to American culture. 
The sad truth, though, is that many Black young people are ig- 
norant of these authors and their works. Moreover, although the 
situation is far better than it was in the past, it could hardly be 
said that there is as yet an extensive body of literary works by and 
for Black Americans. 

The situation is worse for Hispanic Americans. For one thing, 
the Hispanic community is not a unified whole. It is divided into 
Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban-Americans, those from 
Spain, and those from the different Central or South American 
countries. Each of these groups has somewhat different traditions 
and concerns. Most Hispanic-American authors are not well known 
within their own communities and are virtually unknown to a broad- 
er audience. Although there has been a surge of interest in Latin 
American writers of late, this has had little carryover to Hispanic 
authors writing in the U.S. Many of the latter continue to have dif- 
ficulty getting their works published and disseminated to appropriate 
audiences. 

Residence 

There is significant variation in literary participation across 
different regions of the country and from urban to rural commu- 
nities. These differences, however, are relatively modest and are 
probably due mostly to differences in average educational level 
across areas, or to the likely tendency of people who have literary 
inclinations to prefer living in some areas over others. 

Regional variations. In the data from the 1985 SPPA, the odds 
that someone who lived in the West had read a novel, short story, 
poem, or play in the last 12 months were almost two-to-one. By 
contrast, the odds that someone from the South had done so were 
only about 50-50. The odds for residents of the Northeast and Mid- 
west were just slightly better than those for the nation as a whole. 
(Table 9.) A similar pattern of regional variation was visible in the 
data from the 1982 SPPA. Poetry reading and creative writing 



48 Who Reads Literature? 



TABLE 9. Relationship Between Region and Metropolitan Residence and Liter- 
ature Reading, Poetry Reading, Creative Writing, and Book or Magazine Read- 
ing in Last 12 Months, U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over, 1985. 





Proportion 


of Popu 


lation Group 


Who . . . 








Did 


Read 




Read 


Read 


Creative 


Books, 




Literature 


Poetry 


Writing 


Magazines 


ALL ADULTS 


56.0% 


18.6% 


6.2% 


85.6% 


REGION 










Northeast 


57.0% 


17.1% 


4.6% 


86.4% 


Midwest 


56.7% 


21.0% 


6.6% 


90.3% 


South 


50.4% 


18.5% 


4.6% 


80.6% 


West 


63.7% 


17.0% 


10.0% 


87.2% 


RESIDENCE 










Central City 


56.5% 


18.5% 


7.5% 


85.5% 


Suburbs 


61.0% 


21.2% 


8.2% 


91.2% 


Non-Metro 


48.9% 


16.7% 


2.8% 


78.4% 



SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1985 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, tabulations by N. 
Zill and M. Winglee from public use data files. 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation 49 

showed weaker and somewhat different patterns of regional varia- 
tion, although the West was still the leading region as far as the 
proportion doing creative writing was concerned. It was not pos- 
sible to evaluate the predictive power of region after other factors 
were controlled because the Census Bureau does not release both 
geographic identifiers and household socioeconomic data in the 
same public use files. 

Urban-rural variations. The 1985 SPPA data showed that the 
odds were about 60-40 that someone living in the suburbs of the 
major metropolitan areas had read a work of literature in the previ- 
ous 12 months. By contrast, the odds for a person living outside 
of the metropolitan areas were less than 50-50. Residents of non- 
metropolitan areas were also below average in rates of general read- 
ing, creative writing, and poetry reading, although the differences 
with respect to poetry were relatively slight. Residents of the cen- 
tral cities of metropolitan areas were close to the national average 
on each of the participation variables. Similar patterns of urban- 
rural variation were found in the data from the 1982 SPPA. 

The metropolitan residential factor was entered into predic- 
tive equations by means of two variables, one identifying those who 
lived in central cities, and the other, those who lived in non- 
metropolitan areas. Only the latter added significantly to the predic- 
tions. When education, income, age, and other demographic vari- 
ables were taken into account, the contribution of non-metropolitan 
residence was considerably reduced. Residence was, however, the 
third-strongest predictor of creative writing (after education and 
age). It was also a significant though weak predictor of overall liter- 
ature reading. Thus, most of the negative effect of non-metropolitan 
residence on literary participation is due to other characteristics 
of the residents, such as their education levels and ages. There is, 
however, some residual effect or correlate of residence that is not 
accounted for by the demographic characteristics of the residents. 

Predicting Participation from Demographics 

In sum, the likelihood that a person will or will not be a read- 
er of literature is significantly related to a number of basic back- 
ground characteristics, the foremost being his or her education level. 
While gender, age, ethnic background, income level, and place 



SO Who Reads Literature? 

of residence are also related, they tell only a limited amount about 
the person's propensity to read. Other, more specific factors in the 
individual's history and current life situation, such as parental en- 
couragement to read, also come into play, and are examined in the 
next section. But first, it is useful to see how well literary partici- 
pation can be predicted when the basic background characteris- 
tics are combined into predictive equations. 

Literature reading. Five variables were entered into the equa- 
tion for discriminating literature readers from non-readers. (In this 
case, as in each of the later equations, differing numbers of varia- 
bles were relevant and entered into the equation.) For the 1985 
SPPA, education and gender were the predominant predictors, with 
income, race, and non-metropolitan residence adding tiny but 
statistically significant increments of predictive power. The equa- 
tion was able to classify 68 percent of the survey respondents cor- 
rectly. (Bear in mind that one would get about a 50 percent correct 
classification by simply alternating between predictions of "read- 
er" and "non-reader," and 56 percent correct by predicting that 
everyone was a literature reader.) There was also a moderately good 
correlation between the predicted probability of being a reader and 
the actual response. The model did somewhat better at identifying 
those who were readers (71 percent correct) than those who were 
not (63 percent correct). An almost identical equation and similar 
predictive results were obtained with the data from the 1982 SPPA. 

Poetry reading. Only two variables — education and gender — 
were entered into the equation for differentiating poetry readers 
from non-readers. The equation classified 75 percent of the respon- 
dents correctly, but given the relatively small proportion of poetry 
readers in the survey, one would get about 80 percent correct by 
predicting that no one had read a poem. Of course, the latter strategy 
would lead to a complete misidentification of those who actually 
did read poetry (a zero "hit rate"). On the other hand, the equa- 
tion correctly identified 35 percent of those who had read poetry 
and 83 percent of those who had not. The rank-order correlation 
between predicted probability and response (r = .32) was moder- 
ate, but weaker than that obtained with the literature reading equa- 
tion. The equation and predictive accuracy obtained with the 1982 
data were similar, although the additional (but weak) predictors 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation SI 

of age and non-metropolitan residence figured into the 1982 
equation. 

Creative writing. Four variables were entered into the equa- 
tion for discriminating creative writers from non-writers. Once 
again, education was the leading predictor, but this time age was 
the second-best predictor. Non-metropolitan residence and gen- 
der also figured into the equation. The equation classified 92 per- 
cent of the respondents correctly, about the same overall proportion 
correct that one would get by predicting that no one had done any 
creative writing in the last 12 months. However, the equation was 
able to identify correctly 21 percent of the actual writers, as well 
as 95 percent of the non-writers. The rank-order correlation be- 
tween predicted probability and actual response (r = .54) was 
moderately good. The predictive accuracy obtained with the 1982 
SPPA data was nearly identical, and the equation similar, although 
central city residence (rather than non-metropolitan residence) and 
income figured into the 1982 equation. 

Socialization and Training 

Early Encouragement of Reading 

One factor that markedly increases an adult's chances of be- 
ing a regular reader of literature is having grown up in a family 
where reading was practiced and encouraged. Studies of academ- 
ic achievement in children consistently find that the parents' edu- 
cation level and the academic orientation of the home are among 
the best predictors of how well a child will do in school. 45 
Aspects of the home environment that correlate with achievement 
include the number of books and other reading materials in the 
home, whether the child was read to regularly, and whether the 
parents encouraged the child to read books not required for school. 
Similarly, the SPPA has found that one's participation in the arts 
as an adult is correlated with the education level of one's parents 
and with recollections of having been exposed to the arts by one's 
parents when one was a child. 46 Of the various relationships be- 
tween childhood socialization indicators and measures of adult arts 
participation that are covered in the survey, those involving par- 
ticipation in literature are among the strongest. 



32 Who Reads Literature? 

Parents ' education level. The SPPA asked respondents to re- 
port the highest grade or year of regular school their fathers and 
mothers had completed according to six categories ranging from 
"7th grade or less" to "completed college (4+ years)." Although 
17 percent of the respondents in the 1985 survey could not recall 
their father's education level and 13 percent could not recall their 
mother's, most were able to come up with at least an approxima- 
tion. For the purpose of the analyses reported here, the higher of 
the two education levels was used; if only one parent's education 
level was known, it was used. The proportion of respondents whose 
parents attained each education level is shown in Table 10. 

Respondents with college-educated parents were considerably 
more likely to be literature readers than those whose parents had 
less than a high school education. If the respondent's parents were 
college graduates, the odds on the person having read literature 
in the past 12 months were about four- to-one. However, if the par- 
ents had only an elementary school education, the odds were 
reduced to less than 50-50. Parent education was also related to 
the chances of having read poetry or done creative writing, though 
not as strongly. 

As might be expected, the relationships between the literary par- 
ticipation measures and parent's education were not as strong as 
those with the respondent's own educational attainment. This is 
partly because there is less recall error in the measure of the respon- 
dent's own education. But it is mainly because the respondent's 
education is a better indicator of his or her intelligence and educa- 
tional experiences. Of course, parent's education and own educa- 
tion are significantly correlated. Parent's education was also related 
to the respondent's year of birth (with respondents born in more 
recent years having better educated parents) and ethnic group (with 
Black and Hispanic respondents having less educated parents than 
non-minority respondents). 

Parental encouragement of reading. SPPA participants were 
asked: "Did your parents — or other adult members of the 
household— encourage you to read books which were not required 
for school or religious studies: often, occasionally, or never?" Of 
those in the 1985 SPPA, 37 percent reported that their parents en- 
couraged them to read often; 29 percent were encouraged occa- 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation S3 



TABLE 10. Relationship Between Parent Education Level and Literature Read- 
ing, Poetry Reading, Creative Writing, and Book or Magazine Reading in Last 
12 Months, and Proportion of Adults with Parents at Each Education Level, 
U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over, 1982 and 1985. 





Proportion 


of Populati 


on Group Who. . . 








Did 


Read 




Read 


Read 


Creative 


Books, 




Literature 


Poetry 


Writing 


Magazines 






1 982 Data 




ALL ADULTS 


56.4% 


19.8% 


6.5% 


84. 1 % 


PARENT'S EDUCATION 










College grad plus 


81.0% 


35.9% 


13.0% 


97.9% 


Some college 


76.0% 


33.4% 


12.0% 


96.8% 


High school grad. 


64.9% 


22.0% 


9. 1 % 


91.1% 


Some high school 


56.9% 


20.0% 


4.6% 


82. 1 % 


Grade school only 


43.1% 


14.4% 


2.6% 
Proportior 


71.5% 
l of Adults 








with Parents at Each 




1985 Data 
56.0% 




Education Level 


ALL ADULTS 












1985 


1982 


PARENT'S EDUCATION 










College grad plus 


78.3% 




15.4% 


15.0% 


Some college 


78.3% 




12.2% 


9.4% 


High school grad. 


61.7% 




35.2% 


34.2% 


Some high school 


50.8% 




10.4% 


1 1.7% 


Grade school only 


42.9% 




26.7% 
100.0% 


29.7% 
100.0% 



SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1982 and 1985 Surveys of Public Participation in the Arts, tabula- 
tions by N. Zill and M. Winglee from public use data files. 



54 Who Reads Literature? 

sionally; and 34 percent, never. 

The relationship between parental encouragement to read and 
adult literature reading was quite strong, stronger even than the 
relationship between the respondent's education level and litera- 
ture reading. For persons who were frequently encouraged to read 
as children, the odds were nearly four-to-one that they had read 
a novel, short story, poem, or play in the last 12 months. For those 
who were never encouraged to read, on the other hand, the odds 
were more than two-to-one against them having read literature in 
the last year. Parental encouragement was also related to the chances 
of having done other types of reading or creative writing, though 
not as strongly. (Table 11.) 

As would be expected, reports that the parents encouraged the 
respondent to read were related to the parents' education level. If 
the parents were college graduates, 61 percent of the respondents 
said they were often encouraged to read. On the other hand, if the 
parents had an elementary education, only 25 percent were often 
encouraged to read, and more than half were never encouraged. 
Parental encouragement also varied across ethnic groups. It was 
less common among Hispanics than among Blacks, whites, or Asi- 
ans. Only 20 percent of Hispanic respondents reported that they 
were often encouraged to read, and 54 percent said they were never 
encouraged. (Table 12.) 

Women were more likely than men to report that they had been 
encouraged to read as children (42 percent of the women, as op- 
posed to 32 percent of the men). Parental encouragement also varied 
by year of birth, with those born more recently being considera- 
bly more apt to have been encouraged as children. Only 26 per- 
cent of those born in 1910 or earlier reported that they had often 
been encouraged to read, and less than half had been encouraged 
even occasionally. By contrast, 40 percent or more of those born 
since World War II were given frequent encouragement, and 70 
percent or more received at least occasional encouragement. 

Limitations of the evidence of socialization effects. The data 
just reported seem to provide evidence that the encouragement of 
reading in childhood helps to form an abiding habit of reading for 
pleasure and enlightenment. The differences across groups in paren- 
tal encouragement are also generally consistent with the group 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation 55 



TABLE 1 1 . Relationship Between Socialization Factors (Parental Encourage- 
ment of Reading, Respondent's Exposure to Creative Writing Lessons) and 
Literature Reading, Poetry Reading, Creative Writing, and Book or Magazine 
Reading in Last 12 Months, U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over, 1982 and 1985. 



Proportion of Popul. 


ation Group 


Who . . . 






Did 


Read 


Read 


Read 


Creative 


Books, 


Literature 


Poetry 


Writing 


Magazines 


1985 




1 Q°? 




1 7UZ 




ALL ADULTS 56.0% 


19.8% 


6.5% 


84. 1 % 


PARENTS ENCOURAGED READING 








Often 79.0% 


32.8% 


10.4% 


94.6% 


Occasionally 57.0% 


17.1% 


6.0% 


87.6% 


Never 32.0% 


9. 1 % 


2.8% 


64.8% 


R HAD CREATIVE WRITING LESSONS 


• * 






Yes 88.2% 


46.8% 


25.2% 


98.5% 


No 49.6% 


15.2% 


2.7% 


79.9% 



*R denotes respondent. 

SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts, and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1982 and 1985 Surveys of Public Participation in the Arts, tabula- 
tions by N. Zill and M. Winglee from public use data files. 



56 Who Reads Literature? 



TABLE 12. Frequency with Which Parents Encouraged Reading by Parent Edu- 
cation Level, Year of Respondent's Birth, Ethnic Group, and Gender, U.S. Adults 
Aged 18 and Over, 1985. 





Parents Encourag 


;ed Reading. 






Often 


Occasionally 


Never 


Total 






Percent Distributions 




ALL ADULTS 


37.3% 


29.0% 


33.7% 


100.0% 


PARENT'S EDUCATION 










College graduate 


60.5% 


28.0% 


1 1 .5% 


100.0% 


Some college 


52.7% 


30.4% 


16.8% 


99.9% 


High school grad. 


40.7% 


36. 1 % 


23.2% 


100.0% 


Some high school 


35.4% 


32.8% 


31.8% 


100.0% 


Grade school only 


24.9% 


23.6% 


5 1 .4% 


99.9% 


YEAR OF R'S BIRTH' 










1956-1967 


40. 1 % 


32.3% 


27.6% 


100.0% 


1936-1955 


38.6% 


32.8% 


28.6% 


100.0% 


1935 or earlier 


33.6% 


22.4% 


44.0% 


100.0% 


ETHNIC GROUP 










White 


38.8% 


29.7% 


31.5% 


100.0% 


Black 


37.9% 


27.1% 


34.9% 


99.9% 


Hispanic 


20.2% 


25.5% 


54.3% 


100.0% 


Asian, other 


43.6% 


22.9% 


33.5% 


100.0% 


GENDER 










Female 


42.3% 


26.9% 


30.8% 


100.0% 


Male 


31.7% 


31.3% 


37.0% 


100.0% 



*R denotes respondent. 

SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1985 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, tabulations by N. 
Zill and M. Winglee from public use data files. 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation 57 

differences in literary participation that were reported earlier. A 
few caveats are in order, however. To begin with, the evidence on 
socialization effects is based on retrospective recall of parental edu- 
cation levels and encouragement, rather than on observations or 
reports made at the time. With such distant recall, there is the pos- 
sibility that memory is distorting the past to make it consistent with 
present behavior, or that reports of literature reading and parental 
encouragement are related because of common response bias. Thus, 
to be properly cautious, the evidence should really be seen as sug- 
gestive rather than definitive. 

Furthermore, even if the relationships between parental charac- 
teristics and adult literary participation prove to be genuine, the 
mechanism involved might be at least partly genetic, rather than 
wholly environmental. The same criticism applies here as has been 
applied to studies of family influences on children's school achieve- 
ment. 47 High parental education levels and encouragement of 
reading could be seen as markers of high IQ, or of literary talent 
and interest, which may be passed on to the child as much or more 
through shared genes as through a nurturing home environment. 
It should also be noted that while growing up in a home where 
parents read a lot and reading materials are readily available is con- 
ducive to later literary participation, it is not essential. In the past, 
when educational opportunities were more limited, many individu- 
als who became well-read adults were raised by parents who could 
not or did not read themselves. It does seem possible for schools 
and libraries to make up for what the home does not provide. On 
the other hand, the findings on parental encouragement of reading 
suggest that, in trying to teach young people to develop a lifelong 
appreciation for literature, the emotional context in which the learn- 
ing occurs is important. 

Creative Writing Classes 

In addition to family influences, adult reading habits are shaped 
by the formal training a person has received. The SPPA found that 
adults who had taken lessons in music, art, acting, ballet, or classes 
in music or art appreciation, were more likely to attend or take 
part in related artistic activities than people who had not taken les- 
sons or classes. 48 As described below, a similar relationship was 



58 Who Reads Literature? 

obtained between creative writing classes and literary participa- 
tion. Here again, the issue arises of whether having taken a class 
is a cause of later participation or merely an indicator that the person 
has a predilection for the subject. Probably both mechanisms con- 
tribute to the observed relationships. 

Respondents in the arts surveys were asked whether they had 
ever taken lessons or a class in creative writing. Those who said 
they had were asked to specify in which of four age ranges (elemen- 
tary school, secondary school, college, later adulthood) the class- 
es were taken. In the 1985 SPPA, 18 percent of all adults said they 
had taken creative writing lessons or classes at some point. Most 
had received such instruction when they were of high school or 
college age. (Table 13.) Only 3 percent had taken writing classes 
when they were 25 or older. Practically identical proportions were 
obtained in the 1982 SPPA. 

Creative writing lessons were less common than music les- 
sons (which had been taken by nearly half of all adults), crafts les- 
sons (about a third had received these at some point), or visual 
arts lessons (one quarter had taken these). They were about as fre- 
quent as music appreciation or art appreciation classes, and more 
common than acting or ballet lessons (each of which had been taken 
by about one tenth of all respondents). 

If the person had taken a lesson or class in creative writing, 
the odds were nearly nine-to-one that he or she had read a novel, 
short story, poem, or play in the last 12 months. For those who 
had not taken such a class, the odds were about 50-50. Adults who 
had taken writing classes were also more likely to have read po- 
etry and books and magazines in general. (Table 11.) As might be 
expected, there was a moderately strong relationship between tak- 
ing writing classes and doing creative writing. Although only a 
quarter of those who had ever taken a class in creative writing had 
done such writing within the last year, this rate was eight times 
higher than that for adults who had not taken such courses. 

Significant correlations between writing instruction and liter- 
ary participation were found no matter at what ages the writing 
classes had been taken. However, courses taken in the college years 
(18-24) seemed to make slightly more of a difference than those 
at other ages. 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation 59 



TABLE 13. Number and Proportion of Adults Who Had Creative Writing 
Lessons at Various Ages, U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over, 1982 and 1985. 





Nurr 


iber 


Pre 


iportion 




1985 


1982 


1985 




1982 


Age at Which 
Lessons Were Taken 












ALL AGES 


30.6 mil. 


29.7 mil. 


18% 




18% 


Less than 12 yrs. 


1.6 


1.3 


1% 




1% 


12-17 years 


14.6 


12.7 


9% 




8% 


18-24 years 


16.5 


16.6 


10% 




10% 


25 yrs. or more 


5.0 


5.0 


3% 




3% 



SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1982 and 1985 Surveys of Public Participation in the Arts, tabula- 
tions from public use data files. 



60 Who Reads Literature? 

The more education a person had, the more likely he or she 
was to have taken a course in creative writing. Nearly 40 percent 
of those with some college education had done so, as contrasted 
to about 10 percent of those who stopped at high school, and only 
3 percent of those who did not complete high school. Writing train- 
ing was also more common among those with more educated par- 
ents and parents who had encouraged reading. (Table 14.) The 
chances of having had formal training in creative writing as part 
of one's education have increased markedly in this century. Only 
3 percent of those born in 1910 or earlier received such instruc- 
tion, as opposed to about 15 percent of those born in the late 1930s 
or early 1940s, and nearly 30 percent of those born since the 
mid-1950s. Non-Hispanic white respondents were twice as likely 
to have received some creative writing training as Black or Asian 
respondents, and five times more likely than Hispanic respondents. 
Women were slightly more likely than men to have taken such a 
course. 

Current Life Style 

It seems plausible that people's literature reading habits are in- 
fluenced by major aspects of their daily lives, such as their jobs, 
marital situations, and family responsibilities. What people do for 
a living shapes their interest, affects the amount of time and mon- 
ey they have for reading and book purchasing, and exposes them 
to other people who may encourage or discourage certain types 
of reading. Similarly, a person's marital status and family situa- 
tion have effects on interests, discretionary time and money, and 
exposure to different types of people. Job, marital, and family cir- 
cumstances also have a good deal to do with a person's need for 
stimulation, solace, or escape. 

As shown below, there were indeed associations in the arts 
survey data between literature reading and aspects of daily life. 
The associations proved to be weaker than one might expect, how- 
ever, especially after controlling for related factors such as educa- 
tion, income, age, and gender. These findings suggest that literature 
reading is a fairly robust habit that can persist in the face of time 
pressures and competition from other activities. The other side of 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation 61 



TABLE 14. Proportion of Adults Who Have Ever Taken Creative Writing Les- 
sons by Respondent's Education Level, Year of Birth, Ethnic Group, Gender, 
Parent's Education Level, and Parental Encouragement of Reading, U.S. Adults 
Aged 18 and Over, 1985. 



ALL ADULTS 
EDUCATION LEVEL 



Have Had Lessons In Creative Writing: 



Yes 



8.0% 



No 



Percent Distributions 
82.0% I 



Total 



00.0% 



Some college 


38.7% 


61.3% 


100.0% 


High school graduate 


10.6% 


89.4% 


100.0% 


Less than high school 


2.6% 


97.4% 


100.0% 


YEAR OF R'S BIRTH 








1 956- 1 967 


28.4% 


71.6% 


100.0% 


1936-1955 


20. 1 % 


79.9% 


100.0% 


1935 or earlier 


7.5% 


92.5% 


100.0% 


ETHNIC GROUP 








White 


20.4% 


79.6% 


100.0% 


Black 


12.1% 


87.9% 


100.0% 


Hispanic 


4. 1 % 


95.9% 


100.0% 


Asian, other 


9.0% 


91.0% 


100.0% 


GENDER 








Female 


19.0% 


81.0% 


100.0% 


Male 


16.9% 


83.1% 


100.0% 


PARENT'S EDUCATION 








College graduate 


40.9% 


59. 1 % 


100.0% 


Some college 


36.2% 


63.8% 


100.0% 


High school graduate 


19.7% 


80.3% 


100.0% 


Some high school 


1 1.3% 


88.7% 


100.0% 


Grade school only 


5.1% 


94.9% 


100.0% 


PARENTS ENCOURAGED READING 






Often 


32.7% 


67.3% 


100.0% 


Occasionally 


14.4% 


85.6% 


100.0% 


Never 


5.7% 


94.3% 


100.0% 



SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1985 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, tabulations by 
N. Zill and M. Winglee from public use data files. 



62 Who Reads Literature? 

this coin is that those who are non-readers of literature do not sud- 
denly take it up when placed in circumstances that would seem 
to give them the opportunity to do so. 

Employment and Student Status 

The Survey of Public Participation in the Arts collected in- 
formation about whether the respondent was currently employed, 
and, if so, at what job and for how many hours per week. The 
respondent's current employment status was significantly related 
to all types of reading surveyed, as well as to creative writing. (Table 
15.) 

In general, those in the labor force (i.e. , those working or look- 
ing for paid work) were more likely than those not in the labor 
force to have read literature. Students were a notable exception to 
this rule. They showed the highest rates of literary participation 
of all the employment groups. For students in the 1985 SPPA, for 
example, the odds were about three-to-one that they had read fic- 
tion, poetry, or drama in the last 12 months. More than a third 
had read poems and nearly a fifth had done some creative writing 
in that period. 

Of course, the high participation rates of students are partly 
due to their being required to read works of literature for courses 
they are taking. In addition, students tend to be immersed in the 
world of books and to associate with others who read, recommend, 
and talk about books. What many will find remarkable about the 
SPPA findings, however, is not that students' reading rates are so 
high, but that they are not higher. 

Of men and women in the labor force, those who worked part- 
time had somewhat higher rates of literary participation than those 
who worked full-time. Those who had a job but were not at work 
(because of illness, maternity leave, a labor dispute, etc.) also had 
above-average rates of literature reading, but not of poetry reading 
or writing. These differences support the notion that having more 
non-work time available results in more reading of literature. How- 
ever, people who work part-time are more likely to be female and 
younger than those who work full-time. Thus, the factors of gen- 
der and age contribute to the observed differences as well. 

In contrast, those who were unemployed (i.e., without jobs 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation 63 



TABLE 15. Relationship Between Current Employment Status and Literature 
Reading, Poetry Reading, Creative Writing, and Book or Magazine Reading 
in Last 12 Months, U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over, 1985. 





Proportion of Popu 


lation Group 


Who . . . 








Did 


Read 




Read 


Read 


Creative 


Books, 




Literature 


Poetry 


Writing 


Magazines 


ALL ADULTS 


56.0% 


18.6% 


6.2% 


85.6% 


CURRENT EMPLOYMENT STATUS 








In Labor Force 










Working full time 


56.0% 


17.8% 


7.0% 


88.5% 


Working part time 


61.0% 


29.2% 


10.1% 


90.0% 


With job, not at work 


64.5% 


19.2% 


4.8% 


88.2% 


Unemployed 


50.5% 


13.3% 


3.9% 


76.7% 


Not In Labor Force 










Student 


74.5% 


35.3% 


19.2% 


93.6% 


Keeping house 


55.4% 


16.4% 


3.2% 


83.5% 


Retired, other 


49. 1 % 


17.5% 


2.5% 


76.5% 


Disabled 


33.7% 


14.4% 


0.0% 


67.2% 



SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1985 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, tabulations by N. 
Zill and M. Winglee from public use data files. 



64 Who Reads Literature? 

and/or looking for work) showed below-average levels of literary 
participation and reading in general. In this case, the factor of time 
available to read was apparently negated by the generally lower 
education and income levels, and higher concentrations of ethnic 
minorities among the unemployed. Lower education levels were 
also the dominant factor in the below-average reading and writing 
rates shown by those who had retired from the labor force. 

Those who were full-time homemakers had average rates of 
literature reading, about the same as those who worked full-time 
at paid jobs. Given that most of the homemakers were women, 
however, the literary participation rates were lower than would be 
expected. The demands of homemaking and childrearing may have 
played a role here. 

The small group that was not in the labor force because they 
were disabled showed the lowest rates of literary participation. This 
group had high proportions of older members with little educa- 
tion and members of minority ethnic groups. In addition, some 
of the people in this group had disabilities that made it difficult 
or impossible for them to read. 

Occupational Group 

The type of occupation at which a person worked showed a 
moderately strong relationship with literature reading. White col- 
lar workers were generally above average in their reading habits, 
whereas blue collar workers were below average. For those in 
professional occupations, such as medicine, law, and college teach- 
ing, for example, the odds were about three-to-one that they had 
read a work of literature in the past 12 months. For sales and cler- 
ical workers, the odds were about two-to-one. On the other hand, 
for those in the skilled crafts, such as electricians, machinists, 
mechanics, and tool and die makers, the odds were about six-to- 
four against their having read literature. And for laborers, the odds 
were two-to-one against. Service workers, such as waiters, barbers, 
dental assistants, and flight attendants, were intermediate. The odds 
that they had read some literature were slightly better than 50-50, 
about the same as the national average. Similar relationships were 
found with poetry reading and creative writing. (Table 16.) 

Of course, a person's occupation is closely related to his or 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation 63 



TABLE 16. Relationship Between Occupational Class and Literature Reading, 
Poetry Reading, Creative Writing, and Book or Magazine Reading in Last 12 
Months, U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over, 1985. 



Proportion of Population Group Who 







Did 


Read 


Read 


Read 


Creative 


Books, 


Literature 


Poetry 


Writing 


Magazines 



ALL ADULTS 



56% 



19% 



6% 



86% 



Observed Proportions 



OCCUPATIONAL CLASS 










Professional 


76% 


34% 


19% 


98% 


Managerial 


71% 


22% 


1 1% 


93% 


Sales, Clerical 


67% 


22% 


5% 


94% 


Service Workers 


54% 


21% 


1 1% 


86% 


Craftsmen 


42% 


13% 


3% 


86% 


Operatives 


37% 


9% 


2% 


68% 


Laborers 


36% 


7% 
Adjusted Propo 


0% 
rtions 


81% 


OCCUPATIONAL CLASS 










Professional 


60% 


26% 


14% 


90% 


Managerial 


62% 


16% 


8% 


87% 


Sales, Clerical 


60% 


18% 


3% 


90% 


Service Workers 


57% 


20% 


10% 


90% 


Craftsmen 


53% 


18% 


5% 


90% 


Operatives 


48% 


13% 


4% 


76% 


Laborers 


48% 


1 1% 


2% 


88% 



Note: Adjusted proportions derived through multiple classification analysis. 
Proportions adjusted to compensate for variations across groups in age, sex, 
education, income, ethnic composition, and other background characteristics. 

SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1985 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. MCA analysis results 
derived from: Robinson, John P., et al., Public Participation in the 
Arts: Final Report on the 1985 Survey, College Park, MD: Universi- 
ty of Maryland Survey Research Center, December 1986, Tables 3.3, 
3.4, 5.3a & b, and 5.4a & b. 



66 Who Reads Literature? 

her educational attainment and income level. Thus, much of the 
variation in reading habits across occupational classes could be 
attributed to these factors, rather than to occupation per se. When 
education, income, and other background factors were taken into 
account, the differences among occupational classes were consider- 
ably reduced. Some significant variation remained, though. The 
adjusted odds were about six-to-four in favor of a person having 
read literature if he or she were a professional, manager, or cleri- 
cal employee, whereas they were slightly less than 50-50 if the 
person were an operative (such as a truck driver) or a laborer. 

Marital Status 

At first glance, there seemed to be only a weak and some- 
what inconsistent relationship between a person's marital situation 
and his or her literature reading habits. Marital categories that con- 
tained a predominance of younger persons, namely the never mar- 
ried and separated, were slightly higher in literary participation, 
whereas the widowed, a group comprising mostly older persons, 
showed relatively low rates of reading and writing. The observed 
differences, however, appeared to be more a matter of age and edu- 
cation than of nuptial status. (Table 17.) After controlling for age, 
education, and race, a small but interesting difference emerged: 
people who were separated (but not those who were divorced) had 
slightly higher rates of literature reading, poetry reading, and crea- 
tive writing, than people in the other marital categories. These find- 
ings suggest that people tend to turn to literature to help deal with 
the personal crisis of marital separation. 

Presence of Children 

Taking care of children can be time consuming. Time use sur- 
veys have shown that parents of young children, especially mothers, 
spend less time in eating, sleeping, and non-child-related recrea- 
tional activities than adults without children. 49 In the 1985 SPPA 
data, however, there seemed to be little difference between the liter- 
ature reading habits of adults with children and those of adults with- 
out children. After controlling for education, age, and other 
demographic factors, a small but significant difference did emerge, 
with parents of children under 6 years of age showing slightly lower 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation 67 



TABLE 17. Relationship Between Marital Status and Literature Reading, Po- 
etry Reading, Creative Writing, and Book or Magazine Reading in Last 12 
Months, U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over, 1985. 





Proportion of Popu 


lation Group 


Who . . . 








Did 


Read 




Read 


Read 


Creative 


Books, 




Literature 


Poetry 


Writing 


Magazines 


ALL ADULTS 


56% 


19% 


6% 


86% 






Observed Proportions 




MARITAL STATUS 










Never Married 


57% 


22% 


1 1% 


86% 


Married 


56% 


18% 


5% 


87% 


Separated 


55% 


27% 


10% 


84% 


Divorced 


57% 


13% 


6% 


87% 


Widowed 


49% 


15% 
Adjusted 


0% 
Proportions 


80% 


MARITAL STATUS 










Never Married 


55% 


19% 


9% 


83% 


Married 


56% 


19% 


6% 


86% 


Separated 


60% 


29% 


10% 


89% 


Divorced 


56% 


14% 


6% 


89% 


Widowed 


57% 


19% 


4% 


87% 



Note: Adjusted proportions derived through multiple classification analysis. 
Proportions adjusted to compensate for variations across groups in age, sex, 
education, income, ethnic composition, and other background characteristics. 

SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts, and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1985 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. MCA analysis results 
derived from: Robinson, John P, et al., Public Participation in the 
Arts: Final Report on the 1985 Survey, College Park, MD: Universi- 
ty of Maryland Survey Research Center, December 1986, Tables 3.3, 
3.4, 5.3a & b, and 5.4a & b 



68 Who Reads Literature? 



TABLE 18. Relationship Between Parental Status and Literature Reading, Po- 
etry Reading, Creative Writing, and Book or Magazine Reading in Last 12 
Months, U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over, 1985. 

Proportion of Population Group Who. . . 

Did Read 

Read Read Creative Books, 

Literature Poetry Writing Magazines 

ALL ADULTS 56% 19% 6% 86% 

PRESENCE AND Observed Proportions 

AGE OF CHILDREN 
No children at home 
One child under 6 
Two children under 6 
One child 6-1 I 
Two children 6- 1 I 

PRESENCE AND 

AGE OF CHILDREN 
No children at home 
One child under 6 
Two children under 6 
One child 6- 1 I 
Two children 6- 1 I 

Note: Adjusted proportions derived through multiple classification analysis. 
Proportions adjusted to compensate for variations across groups in age, sex, 
education, income, ethnic composition, and other background characteristics. 
For simplicity, groups with older children have been omitted. 

SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1985 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. MCA analysis results 
derived from: Robinson, John P, et al., Public Participation in the 
Arts: Final Report on the 1985 Survey, College Park, MD: Universi- 
ty of Maryland Survey Research Center, December 1986, Tables 3.3, 
3.4, 5.3a & b, and 5.4a & b. 



56% 


19% 


6% 


85% 


53% 


15% 


7% 


90% 


54% 


18% 


5% 


87% 


57% 


17% 


8% 


84% 


61% 


20% 


9% 


92% 




Adjusted 


Proportions 




57% 


20% 


6% 


85% 


50% 


13% 


5% 


88% 


51% 


18% 


5% 


83% 


55% 


17% 


8% 


84% 


57% 


19% 


10% 


89% 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation 69 

rates of literature and poetry reading than parents of children 6 
and older, or non-parents. (Table 18.) The differences might have 
been greater if the survey had measured the number of books read, 
rather than just the fact of having read literature or not. 

Of course, for some adults, having children serves to bring 
them back into contact with literature or to increase their reading, 
at least of children's and youth-oriented books. In the BISG sur- 
vey of book reading, more than a quarter of all adult fiction 
readers— or 10 percent of all adults— had read a juvenile or chil- 
dren's book in the last six months. Presumably much of this was 
parents reading to young children or reading aloud with older chil- 
dren. Reading to a child was also the third leading reason (after 
reading for pleasure and general knowledge) that fiction readers 
gave for reading. This reason was cited by 29 percent of the fic- 
tion readers. 50 

The Role of Television 

Television watching is often cited as an activity that competes 
with reading and as a major reason why people do not read more 
literature. Yet television can be a spur to purchasing books and 
reading, as when an author appears on a talk show, a book is made 
into a television program or movie, or is advertised on television 
or mentioned or reviewed on a cultural program. In the BISG sur- 
vey on book reading, respondents were asked to rate the impor- 
tance of various factors in selecting books to read and purchase. 
"Seeing a movie or TV show based on the book" was among the 
top eight reasons for selecting a book, rated as "very important" 
by more than a quarter of the readers, and at least "somewhat im- 
portant" by 60 percent of them. 51 

Adults interviewed in the SPPA were asked to report the number 
of hours they watched television on an average day. In the 1985 
survey, close to 30 percent of all respondents reported that they 
watched 4 or more hours per day, which is here categorized as a 
"heavy" viewing pattern. About a quarter said they watched less 
than 2 hours per day ("light" viewing). The remainder, about 45 
percent, watched between 2 and 4 hours ("moderate" viewing). 
A similar viewing breakdown was obtained in the 1982 SPPA. (Table 
19.) 



70 Who Reads Literature? 



TABLE 19. Amounts of Daily Television Viewing Reported by U.S. Adults Aged 
18 and Over, 1982 and 1985. 



Percent Distribution 



Estimated Number of 
Viewers in Population 





1985 


1982 


1985 


1982 


TELEVISION VIEWING 










Light (<2 Hrs/Day) 


25.6% 


24.0% 


43.5 mil. 


39.3 mil. 


Moderate (2-3 Hrs) 


45.9% 


44.8% 


78.1 


73.3 


Heavy (4 Hrs plus) 


28.5% 


3 1 .2% 


48.5 


51.1 


Total 


100.0% 


100.0% 


170.1 mil. 


163.7 mil. 



SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1982 and 1985 Surveys of Public Participation in the Arts, tabula- 
tions by N. Zill and M. Winglee from public use data files. 



TABLE 20. Relationship Between Television Viewing and Literature Reading, 
Poetry Reading, Creative Writing, and Book or Magazine Reading in Last 12 
Months, U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over, 1982 and 1985. 

Proportion of Population Group Who. . . 

Did Read 

Read Read Creative Books, 

Literature Poetry Writing Magazines 







1 982 Data 




ALL ADULTS 


56.4% 


19.8% 


6.5% 


84. 1 % 


TELEVISION VIEWING 










Light (<2 Hrs/Day) 


61.9% 


28.8% 


9.5% 


81.2% 


Moderate (2-3 Hrs) 


58.8% 


21.1% 


6.7% 


86.5% 


Heavy (4 Hrs plus) 


49.9% 


14.6% 


4.8% 


79.3% 






1985 Data 




ALL ADULTS 


56.0% 








TELEVISION VIEWING 










Light (<2 Hrs/Day) 


59.6% 








Moderate (2-3 Hrs) 


56.4% 


n.a. 


n.a. 


n.a. 


Heavy (4 Hrs plus) 


52.9% 









SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 
1982 and 1985 Surveys of Public Participation in the Arts, tabula- 
tions by N. Zill and M. Winglee from public use data files. 



Factors That Affect Literary Participation 71 

When the reports of TV watching were cross-tabulated with 
reports of literature reading, a negative but relatively weak rela- 
tionship between reading and viewing emerged. In the 1985 data, 
the odds that "light" TV viewers had read a work of literature in 
the last 12 months were slightly better than average, about six-to- 
four. For "heavy" viewers, on the other hand, the odds were slightly 
below average, about 50-50. "Moderate" television viewers were 
about average in their literature reading propensity. 

A similar but slightly stronger relationship was obtained with 
the 1982 survey data. (Table 20.) These data also permitted an anal- 
ysis of the association between TV viewing and the other literary 
participation measures, which was not possible with the 1985 sur- 
vey. Both poetry reading and creative writing showed negative rela- 
tionships with time watching television, with the relationship for 
poetry being slightly stronger. Light TV viewers were twice as likely 
to have read poetry or done some creative writing as heavy view- 
ers. Interestingly, the relationship between TV viewing and the read- 
ing of books and magazines was curvilinear, with the moderate 
viewing group showing a slightly higher proportion of readers than 
either the light or heavy viewing groups. This could be because 
poorly educated non-readers are apt to be either heavy viewers of 
television or non-viewers. 

Countervailing tendencies. It may be that the overall associa- 
tion between TV viewing and literature reading is not stronger be- 
cause there are opposing tendencies at work. As noted earlier, those 
who are active in one type of leisure activity tend to be active in 
other types as well. Some people simply do more than others, even 
though everyone is constrained by the number of hours in the day. 
This phenomenon is recognized in the saying, "If you want some- 
thing done, ask the busy person to do it." We also know that there 
are large individual differences in reading speed. Moreover, time- 
use studies tell us that television watching is often done as a secon- 
dary activity; i.e., something that goes on while other activities 
are occurring. 52 

At some level, however, there must be a trade-off between one 
form of media participation and other forms. It seems likely that 
the trade-off between television and literature reading would be 
more visible if additional information about the types and quanti- 



72 Who Reads Literature? 

ty of reading done were available in the survey, or if the television 
viewers were further subdivided, into selective and non-selective 
viewers, for example. 



Chapter 4 

Expanding the Audience. 

What Can Be Done? 



The State of Literature Reading 

The survey results reported here contain both good and bad news 
for those who would like to see literature in America not only sur- 
vive but flourish. The major piece of good news is that despite 
concerns about illiteracy and aliteracy in the United States, more 
than half of all American adults report that they have read some 
fiction, poetry, or drama within the last year. Levels of reading 
in the U.S. seem to be comparable to those in Great Britain and, 
as far as can be determined, other industrialized countries. In ad- 
dition, general education levels have risen, recent generations of 
adults are more likely than older generations to have been en- 
couraged to read as children, and growing numbers of people have 
been exposed to creative writing classes. 

The surveys indicate that older adults are less likely to be read- 
ers of literature than middle-aged or young adults. However, the 
differences in reading propensities appear to be more a function 
of older citizens' lower education levels than of age per se, imply- 



74 Who Reads Literature? 

ing that literature reading levels among the elderly should go up 
in the future as the current cohorts of elders are replaced by the 
more educated senior citizens of tomorrow. 

Other aspects of the survey results are less heartening. Follow- 
up questions asking what people meant when they said they had 
read novels or short stories revealed that some of the reports were 
erroneous and most involved the reading of lightweight, genre fic- 
tion (thrillers, romances, science fiction, horror stories, etc.) as 
opposed to more significant and enduring works. Of the 56 per- 
cent of adults who reported reading fiction, poetry, or drama within 
a 12-month period, less than half had read works of literary merit, 
comprising between a tenth and a quarter of the adult population. 
Moreover, the audience for meritorious contemporary works ap- 
peared to be smaller still, constituting something like 7 to 12 per- 
cent of all adults. Thus, although most Americans can and do read, 
followers of serious literature are distinctly in the minority. 

Another discouraging finding is that while literature reading 
is likely to increase among older Americans, it seems to be decreas- 
ing among young adults. Data from several surveys point to a de- 
cline during the 1970s and 1980s in the frequency of reading among 
those under the age of 30. Literature has also become an art that 
is neglected by men and dominated by women. As of the mid-1980s, 
women made up nearly 60 percent of the readers, and almost two- 
thirds of the would-be writers of literature. 

Whereas women are overrepresented, ethnic minorities con- 
tinue to be underrepresented in the audience for literature. Despite 
the growing visibility and influence of Black and Hispanic writers, 
less than 45 percent of Black or Hispanic adults reported reading 
fiction, poetry, or drama. Their lower reading rates are largely at- 
tributable to their lower average education levels. But even when 
they have equivalent years of schooling, national testing programs 
have found that Black and Hispanic youths are less adept readers 
than non-minority young people. Blacks and Hispanic adults have 
had less exposure to creative writing classes than white adults, and, 
as children, Hispanics were less apt to have been encouraged to 
read by their parents. 

The survey finding that may be most disappointing, however, 
is the simple fact that large numbers of American adults— 44 



Expanding the Audience: What Can Be Done? 75 

percent— do not read literature at all. Most of the non-readers of 
literature know how to read. They have completed high school and 
been exposed to at least some instruction in literature apprecia- 
tion. Yet they read nothing in the way of fiction, poetry, or drama. 
Why is it that literature in general and quality literature in particu- 
lar are not read more widely? What can be done to encourage such 
reading? 

Why Quality Literature Is Not Read More Widely 

Three broad explanations can be suggested for why literature of 
merit is not read more widely: a shortage of readers who appreci- 
ate good literature, a dearth of writers who can communicate to 
a mass audience while maintaining high literary standards, and a 
need for more resources and knowledge to be applied to the pro- 
motion of literary works. Much attention has been paid of late to 
developments relevant to the first category; i.e. , to changes in our 
educational system and broader society that may be producing fewer 
citizens who appreciate good literature and fine art. These develop- 
ments are of legitimate concern to all who value the arts and hu- 
manities. When it comes to recommending steps to increase the 
audience for literature, however, the suggestions that seem most 
feasible to carry out fall mainly in the third category. 

Readers Who Don 't Appreciate 

Is American society turning out fewer adults nowadays who 
have the skills and inclination to appreciate serious literature? Com- 
mentators on the U.S. cultural scene have pointed to a number of 
social trends that may be having stultifying effects on the enjoy- 
ment of literature, and on the appreciation of other arts and hu- 
manities as well. 

Educational deterioration. Many critics claim that the U.S. 
educational system has deteriorated, and that high schools and col- 
leges are doing a poor job of transmitting the Western cultural her- 
itage to students. The schools have been accused of not teaching 
the skills required to appreciate great literature and art, not giving 
students a solid grounding in the classics, not nurturing a love for 
language, not requiring memorization of great poetry and prose, 



76 Who Reads Literature? 

allowing students to get away with careless writing, and other fail- 
ings. 53 Research findings lend some support to these criticisms, 
but the picture is more complex than usually portrayed. 

As is now well known, the College Entrance Examination 
Board's Scholastic Aptitude Tests and other nationwide testing pro- 
grams gave evidence of significant deterioration in student knowl- 
edge and proficiency during the late 1960s and 1970s. Not only 
did average test scores go down but also fewer students displayed 
high levels of achievement in either verbal or quantitative skills. 
Test scores have recovered somewhat during the 1980s, but the 
achievement levels of today's college-bound students are still sig- 
nificantly lower than those of comparable students in the early 
1960s. 54 

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has 
found that today's high school students know relatively little about 
modern American literature, even though most have received in- 
struction in literature appreciation. 55 Earlier assessments showed 
that student attitudes about reading literature become progressively 
more negative as one goes from elementary school to junior high 
to high school students. 56 In 1985, NAEP assessed the literacy 
skills of young adults (ages 21-25) and found that 95 percent could 
read and understand the printed word, but only a small percentage 
could understand complex material. For example, only 9 percent 
of the young adults could understand an unfamiliar and rather subtle 
short poem by Emily Dickinson well enough to explain what the 
poet was trying to express. 57 

There is other research evidence, however, that casts litera- 
ture instruction in U.S. schools in a more favorable light. For one 
thing, U.S. schools are now at least trying to educate minority stu- 
dents who were written off in the past and are still relatively neglect- 
ed by educational systems in other nations. NAEP and other testing 
programs have shown that significant progress has been made during 
the last two decades in raising the basic reading and writing skills 
of Black and Hispanic students. 58 In an international comparison 
of literature education in ten countries, Alan Purves and his col- 
leagues found that "The United States brings a higher proportion 
of its age cohort farther along in reading than any other country 
in the sample without the best students suffering." 59 Overall, U.S. 



Expanding the Audience: What Can Be Done? 77 

students did not fare badly in international tests of literature achieve- 
ment, although their achievement was not quite as good as that 
of British students in some areas and the U.S. students displayed 
more negative attitudes toward literature than students in other coun- 
tries. Analyses of the international test results showed that home 
background was at least as important as school factors in account- 
ing for individual differences in literature achievement. The ana- 
lyses also called into question some of the prescriptions that have 
been made for improving literature instruction. It was found, for 
example, that students who did not frequently have to recite litera- 
ture from memory performed better than those who did. 60 

Evidence from the College Board Achievement Testing Pro- 
gram indicates that the study of literature may be growing more 
popular, and U.S. high schools seem to be holding their own in 
teaching literature appreciation to the best students. The number 
of students who took the Literature Achievement Test increased 
by nearly 50 percent between 1980-1981 and 1985-1986 (going from 
15,556 to 22,955 students), and the mean score on the test increased 
slightly (from 516 to 524) over the same interval* However, only 
a small and rather select fraction of college bound students take 
the Literature Test. (In 1985-1986 there were more than 1.6 mil- 
lion who took the Scholastic Aptitude Test, 191 thousand, the Eng- 
lish Composition Test, and more than 40 thousand, the American 
History Test.) 61 

Technological change and cultural decay. In contrast to those 
who blame our educational system for failing to maintain interest 
in literature, other observers point to profound cultural and tech- 
nological changes that have occurred in our society and say it is 
unfair to expect the schools to overcome the negative effects of these 
developments. 62 Among the trends that may be working to the 
detriment of literature appreciation are: 

• the increased availability of alternative forms of entertain- 
ment, not only television and movies, but also newspapers 
with a variety of feature articles, specialty magazines, elec- 
tronic games and personal computers, music videos, etc. ; 



*Changes in test composition make it inadvisable to compare mean scores from 
the 1980s with those from Literature Achievement Tests given in earlier years. 



78 Who Reads Literature? 

• the explosion of scientific and technical knowledge, which 
has caused jargon to proliferate and compels the citizen 
who wants to be reasonably well-informed to spend more 
time reading factual material rather than literature; 

• the breakdown of generally-accepted standards of artistic 
quality and taste in the face of challenges by avant-garde 
writers and artists, civil libertarians, ethnic minorities, 
feminists, and others; 63 

• the emergence of a youth-oriented entertainment industry 
that is blatantly vulgar and anti-intellectual, and that 
produces and promotes rock music, movies, and television 
shows aimed explicitly at the teenage and young adult au- 
dience; 64 

• the advent of a so-called "lite era," in which the mass me- 
dia and commercial advertising have trained viewers and 
readers of all ages to be impatient with any work that re- 
quires serious and sustained attention. 

Although it certainly seems plausible that some or all of these 
developments could have an effect on the reading and apprecia- 
tion of literature, there has been no systematic research demon- 
strating connections between these trends and changes in literary 
participation. 

The influence of television. Aside from the deterioration of the 
educational system, the emergence of television as the dominant 
medium of U.S. mass communication is most often cited as hav- 
ing a degrading influence on American civilization. Television 
programming has been described as addictive fare that is designed 
primarily to keep viewers watching through the commercials, thus 
taking up time that might otherwise be spent in reading or other 
more constructive pursuits. Television has also been accused of 
satiating the public appetite for narrative with "empty calories" 
instead of intellectual substance, of reducing public taste to the 
lowest common denominator, and of failing to challenge, inspire, 
or enlighten the viewer. It could be argued as well that television 
has lured writers who might produce works of broad and endur- 
ing appeal away from serious writing and into more lucrative but 
ephemeral projects, such as scripts for soap operas, situation come- 



Expanding the Audience: What Can Be Done? 79 

dies, and made-for-TV movies. 

Only a weak negative association was found in the SPPA data 
between television viewing and literature reading, but there is lit- 
tle doubt that the advent of television has had profound effects on 
our cultural life. 65 Again, however, research that convincingly 
demonstrates links between television and trends in literary par- 
ticipation remains to be done. 

Writers Who Don't Communicate 

Some have argued that at least part of the blame for the rela- 
tively small audiences that contemporary literature and art com- 
mand must be laid at the feet of the writers and artists themselves. 
The popular appeal of literature and the other arts has certainly 
been affected by the separation of the serious writer, painter, or 
composer from any sort of integral role in the operation or 
ceremonial life of the society. 

Just how far artistic alienation has come is illustrated by a re- 
cent incident in which the late Robert Penn Warren, who was then 
serving as poet laureate of the United States, expressed indigna- 
tion at the suggestion that he might produce a poem or two on na- 
tional or patriotic themes during his tenure as laureate. 66 Instead 
of feeling honored that he was being called on to be the poetic voice 
of the nation, he apparently felt affronted by the notion. Warren 
is certainly not alone in rejecting the role of people's spokesman. 
Many contemporary writers and artists feel no obligation to deal 
with themes that might be of concern and interest to large num- 
bers of their fellow citizens, or to make their work understanda- 
ble, let alone entertaining, to any but the cognoscenti. It is scarcely 
surprising then, that the public chooses to stay away in droves from 
the work of these writers and artists. 

The current situation was eloquently summarized by publish- 
er Dan Lacy in a 1980 talk at the Center for the Book in the Li- 
brary of Congress. Lacy observed that: 

The achievement of that communion between author and 
reader, artist and viewer, composer and audience by which 
creation is consummated depends on the possession of 
a common vocabulary of words and forms and structures 



80 Who Reads U terature? 

of meaning. Over the years this common coin grows worn 
with use so that the freshness and force of communica- 
tion is blurred and dimmed. Young writers and painters 
and composers yearn to shatter them for new forms that, 
they feel, will better express their meaning. Better ex- 
press indeed, but not better convey that meaning if the 
new-minted forms are not part of the audience's curren- 
cy. Communion fails, full creation is aborted, and the ar- 
tist's work in whatever field becomes a solipsism, to which 
he retreats with a greater willingness because of his grow- 
ing contempt for and alienation from society. 

One senses today how few are the artists in any field, 
at any adequate level of competence, who feel the strong 
central currents of society surge through them to shape 
their work— in the sense that Shakespeare and Haydn and 
da Vinci felt at one with their times. In another day even 
those creators and thinkers who felt most alienated and 
hostile to the dominant forces of their times— such as Karl 
Marx, Zola, or Brecht— yet felt society itself important — 
quite literally terribly important— and themselves and their 
work important in challenging it. They were therefore 
called forth to their utmost not only to express but to con- 
vey their meanings, to reach minds, to engage themselves 
to the fullest with the life of their time— whether as its 
voice or its foe. I do not find it so today. 67 

Publishers Who Don 't Promote 

In addition to the large-scale social changes described above, 
there are more mundane reasons why contemporary literature is 
not more widely read. These reasons have to do with a lack of 
resources devoted to the promotion of literary books and deficien- 
cies in their packaging, advertising, and distribution. In these areas, 
there are actions available to private firms and public organiza- 
tions that might help to boost the sales and readership of contem- 
porary works of merit. 

As things now stand, relatively little money or effort is spent 
on publishing literary books, especially in comparison to the large 
amounts spent promoting television programs, movies, popular 



Expanding the Audience: What Can Be Done? 81 

magazines, and other mass media products that compete with books 
for the reader's attention. The modest resources that are invested 
in promotion tend to be spent in standard ways: sending the au- 
thor on a book tour, distributing free copies to reviewers and promi- 
nent individuals who might provide testimonials, placing 
advertisements in literary magazines or the book review sections 
of newspapers, etc. Most of these methods consist largely of preach- 
ing to the converted rather than trying to make new disciples from 
among those who read only popular fiction, those who do not read 
literature at all, or those from ethnic minorities and other social 
groups who are underrepresented in the literary audience. 

There is, to be sure, a good commercial reason why more pro- 
motion is not done: the money to support it is not there. As men- 
tioned earlier, most volumes of serious fiction, poetry, and drama 
do not sell many copies, even if they have received excellent reviews. 
Publishing these works is typically a losing or marginally profita- 
ble proposition. More promotion might lead to more sales, but in 
most cases the risks involved seem to be too great or the projected 
sales too small to warrant the investment of additional resources. 
Efforts to publicize literary works more widely could, of course, be 
subsidized by the profits (if any) that publishers make on their more 
successful books, or through promotional campaigns conducted 
by libraries and booksellers, by cash and in-kind contributions from 
corporations, and by grants from private foundations or public agen- 
cies* All of these forms of subsidy are now customary in the per- 
forming arts, and there seems little reason why they should not 
be applied more widely to the art of literature. In addition to the 
need for more resources devoted to promotion, however, promo- 
tional efforts should be better informed by knowledge about why 
people read and how they go about selecting the particular books 
they do. 

Applying Research to Encourage Literature Reading 

A number of steps could be taken to apply research findings to 
the process of disseminating information about new and classic 

*The NEA's Literature Program does provide a small amount of support, on an 
annual basis through matching grants, for "audience development projects". These 
include literary promotion projects, small press bookfairs, radio programs, etc. 



82 Who Reads Literature? 

books. Illustrative suggestions are offered in the following para- 
graphs. 

Paying attention to subject matter. One research result that has 
received insufficient attention from those who sell and lend books 
is that one of the main reasons people choose to read the books 
they do is because they are interested in the subject matter dealt 
with in the books and are seeking to expand their general infor- 
mation about the time, place, people, or events in question. 68 This 
finding applies to the reading of both fiction and non-fiction. Yet 
most bookstores and libraries are organized as if the reasons for 
reading fiction were entirely separate and distinct from those for 
reading non-fiction. Fiction and non-fiction works are kept in differ- 
ent areas and there is no easy way for someone who is interested 
in, say, browsing through novels about the U.S. Civil War to do 
so. A display or shelving system that brought together fiction and 
non-fiction books on given topics might well tempt the person who 
is interested in a subject, but who does not ordinarily read fiction, 
to buy or borrow a novel that deals with the subject. Likewise, 
in advertising a new work of fiction that deals with a given sub- 
ject or period, publishers could make use of special interest peri- 
odicals and mailing lists that would reach those with a proven 
interest in the subject or period. At present, this is rarely done. 

Guiding readers to books they are likely to enjoy. Book re- 
search has shown that fiction readers could use more information 
to help guide their selection of books to read. For example, a study 
by Nicholas Spenceley and Peter Mann found that it was not un- 
common for library patrons to borrow a novel just because it looked 
interesting on the shelf, without prior knowledge of the author or 
title. When they did this, however, they wound up having a posi- 
tive reaction to the book only 40 percent of the time. 69 This was 
well below the satisfaction levels of readers who had more speci- 
fic information about the title or author prior to borrowing a book. 
This suggests that in order to increase the chances of reader satis- 
faction, which would, in turn, lead to more reading of contem- 
porary literature, librarians, publishers, and literature programs 
should be providing potential readers with more guidance of the 
following sort: "If you enjoyed (Book A), you're likely to enjoy 
(Books B, C, and D)." Moreover, it would be preferable if this gui- 



Expanding the Audience: What Can Be Done? 83 

dance were based on actual surveys of reader satisfaction, rather 
than on the judgment of individual experts or the desires of pub- 
lishers to plug particular titles in their catalogs. 

Getting genre fans to read quality fiction. It would appear that 
more could be done to encourage the readers of genre fiction to 
explore more serious literary works. One way of doing this is to 
establish, through research, which works of quality literature are 
apt to appeal to readers of a particular genre, and then to publicize 
those works through advertisements and outlets that are likely to 
reach the genre readers. Other steps that might be taken are to give 
public recognition to those writers of thrillers, romances, science 
fiction, etc., whose novels or short stories evince superior literary 
qualities, and to encourage good writers who are not widely read 
to attempt some genre or genre-like writing in order to build a bigger 
following for their work. 

Using newspapers to reach non-readers of literature. Surveys 
show that one way to reach people who read but do not read liter- 
ature is through newspapers and news magazines, suggesting that 
more should be done to publicize new books and promote litera- 
ture reading in general through newspapers* Books could also be 
advertised more extensively in newspapers, and not just in the book 
review sections. As is done for the performing arts, newspapers 
might be persuaded to run a regular literary "billboard" that com- 
bined small advertisements for a number of different books in one 
section, with the advertising space being sold at reduced rates. Liter- 
ature programs could also encourage newspapers to run more fea- 
ture articles about books and authors, to bring back the serialization 
of quality fiction in their pages, and to print more poems, particu- 
larly ones that are relatively accessible to readers who have not 
been steeped in Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens. 

Employing television more effectively. Increasing the amount 
of television publicity for serious literature does not mean simply 
getting more authors on talk shows, for authors' appearances do 
not always enhance book sales. Valuable principles can be learn- 
ed, though, from programs that have been successful at encourag- 



*One attempt to do this is the PEN Syndicated Fiction Project, which has placed 
short stories in major newspapers across the country since 1978. 



84 Who Reads Literature? 

ing reading and stimulating book sales. These include the children's 
reading series Cover to Cover and Reading Rainbow, and the adult- 
oriented book review program, Bookmark. Among the lessons these 
shows teach are to select the books to be featured carefully, choos- 
ing ones that have both high quality and wide appeal, to present 
excerpts from the books' stories on the show, with illustrations or 
dramatizations that help to involve the viewer, and to ensure that 
the viewer can obtain the books without great difficulty. (The last 
point includes making certain that the book is still in print.) 

Supporting promising developments in book marketing. Liter- 
ature support programs should also be making efforts to identify, 
encourage, and disseminate information about promising innova- 
tions in the marketing and distribution of literary books. Two re- 
cent examples of developments that may make a difference in the 
sales and readership of today's literature are the proliferation of 
book discussion groups and the emergence of the trade paperback 
series. 

Book discussion groups are small gatherings of adults who 
assign themselves a series of common readings and get together 
regularly to discuss the books and socialize. These groups, which 
have apparently become fairly popular in a number of metropoli- 
tan areas, are a perfect mechanism for expanding the range of people 
who read modern literature as well as the number of books read. 
Libraries and publishers could help to suggest and supply reading 
matter for these groups and stimulate the formation of more such 
groups. 

Trade paperback series, such as Vintage Contemporaries, 
Scribners Signature Editions, and Penguin Contemporary Ameri- 
can Fiction, are a group of original or reprinted novels by differ- 
ent contemporary authors that are published in higher-priced 
paperbound editions with an imprint name and a uniform cover 
format. Books in the series also appear together in special book- 
store displays, and these displays are often prominently exhibited 
in both local literary bookstores and in chain stores. Novels pub- 
lished in these series have sold 10-to-20 times as many copies as 
the typical literary novel that comes out in an individual hard-cover 
edition. Although some critics have qualms about books being 
bought and sold by "brand name" rather than on their individual 



Expanding the Audience: What Can Be Done? 85 

merits, this marketing innovation seems to have given a number 
of serious authors a substantial boost in readership. 70 

Promoting both established and developing authors. It might 
seem logical to focus publicity efforts for contemporary literature 
on authors whose works have artistic distinction but little hope of 
commercial success. Promotional efforts for writers like John Barth, 
Joan Didion, Joseph Heller, Anne Tyler, John Updike, Gore Vi- 
dal, or Tom Wolfe seem unnecessary because their names are widely 
known in literary circles and their books usually sell quite well 
in comparison with most works of serious fiction. Yet, if the goal 
is to expand the audience for contemporary literature beyond its 
current bounds, promoting established as well as struggling authors 
might well be in order. It is likely that the aforementioned writers 
and their works are not familiar to most members of the public 
at large, as demonstrated by the 1984 poll showing that most Ameri- 
cans did not recognize the name George Orwell. Moreover, the 
number of people who buy or borrow even a best-selling book by 
one of these authors is small in comparison with the number of 
college-educated adults in the U.S. or the number of people who 
watch a prime-time television show. Thus, the notion of including 
such prominent authors in literature promotion campaigns is far 
from ridiculous. Indeed, their inclusion would seem to be a sensi- 
ble way to get more people reading quality literature. 



In conclusion, it seems possible that the readership of con- 
temporary fiction, poetry, and drama could be greatly increased 
if more private and public resources were devoted to the encourage- 
ment of literature reading and if promotional efforts made better 
use of research knowledge about why people read and how they 
select the books that they do. Ways in which research findings could 
be applied include paying more attention to the importance of sub- 
ject matter in people's selections of books to read, providing poten- 
tial buyers and borrowers with guidance about books they are likely 
to enjoy, encouraging fans of genre fiction to explore more seri- 
ous literary works, using newspapers to reach a wide array of readers 
(including those who do not currently read literature), employing 
television more effectively to promote books, supporting such 



86 Who Reads Literature? 

promising new developments as book discussion groups and trade 
paperback series, and promoting works by established as well as 
developing authors. 

The actions suggested above will not work wonders. In the 
long run, the viability and reach of the literary enterprise depends 
less on marketing techniques than on how well our society can cul- 
tivate readers with the skills and sensibilities to appreciate great 
literature and writers with the craft and imagination to entertain, 
challenge, and enlighten large numbers of their compatriots. Giv- 
en the current situation, however, with many potential readers in 
the population but few reading serious works on any but an occa- 
sional basis, it does seem that increased investment in promotion- 
al efforts would produce a notable and much needed expansion in 
the audience for literature. 



TECHNICAL APPENDIX 



How well can we predict whether a person will be a literature reader, 
knowing basic facts about him or her such as age, sex, race, edu- 
cation, income, and place of residence? The statistical method used 
to answer this question was logistic regression analysis. ! Like lin- 
ear discriminant analysis, logistic regression finds a weighted com- 
bination of characteristics that best accounts for the observed 
distribution of people into two mutually exclusive classes (in this 
case, readers and non-readers). Unlike linear models, however, 
logistic regression fits the data to a curve or, in multiple dimen- 
sions, a curved solid, rather than a straight line or rectilinear 
solid. 2 

Specifically, let the dependent variable, Y, be equal to one if 
the person is a reader, and zero if he or she is not. Then the prob- 
ability, pi, that the ith individual is a reader, is represented by the 
equation: 

Pi = 1/{1 + e*-« -**»•«>]} 

where e is the base of the natural logarithms, alpha is the intercept 
term, and jSj is the regression weight for the jth predictor varia- 



88 Who Reads Literature? 

ble. The optimal values of the a and /3 weights are derived using 
the modified Gauss-Newton method of maximum-likelihood esti- 
mation. (The LOGIST computer program in the SAS statistical 
software package was used to develop the models.) 3 

Logistic regression has several advantages over linear regres- 
sion for predicting dichotomous outcomes like literature reading. 
First, the logistic model is inherently interactive in its depiction 
of the relationships among the predictor and criterion variable and, 
as such, is probably closer to the underlying reality than is the 
simple additive model of linear regression. 4 Second, it is often 
more difficult to achieve an increase in the probability of occur- 
rence of an outcome at the extremes of its probability distribution 
(i.e., when the probability is very low or very high). The logistic 
model is able to accomodate such "floor and ceiling" effects. Linear 
regression, by contrast, assumes that a unit change in the value 
of the predictor variable will produce a constant level of change 
regardless of where one is on the probability distribution of the 
dependent variable. 5 

Third, logistic regression always yields predicted probabili- 
ties between and 1. Linear regression, on the other hand, can 
produce predicted values beyond and 1, in effect predicting prob- 
abilities below zero and in excess of 100 percent. Finally, the logistic 
model makes fewer assumptions about the underlying distributions 
of variables (e.g. , no multivariate normality assumption for covar- 
iates). When distributional assumptions are violated, logistic regres- 
sion still yields unbiased estimates of the standard errors of 
coefficients, whereas ordinary least squares regression may not. 

Appendix Table I summarizes the results of multiple logistic 
regressions performed on data from the 1982 and 1985 Survey of 
Public Participation in the Arts. The dependent variable was whether 
or not the respondent reported reading literature during the previ- 
ous twelve months. The independent variables were the respon- 
dent's age (in single years), sex (coded "1" if female, "0" if male), 
race (coded "1" if black, "0" if non-black), educational attain- 
ment (years of regular school completed), income (total dollars, 
broken down into 14 categories), central city residence (coded "1" 
if the respondent lived in the central city of a metropolitan area, 
"0" otherwise), and non-metropolitan residence (coded "1" if the 



Technical Appendix 89 

respondent lived outside any metropolitan area, "0" if inside the 
suburbs or central city of a metropolitan area). Independent models 
were developed for the 1982 and 1985 surveys. 

The top panel of the table shows the contribution of each demo- 
graphic characteristic to the prediction of literature reading. The 
middle panel gives the computed regression coefficients and their 
standard errors. The bottom panel presents several measures of the 
predictive accuracy of the model. 

A chi-square test was performed to assess whether the logistic- 
regression model gave a discernibly better prediction than a mod- 
el based on the presumption of no association between the predic- 
tors and the criterion. A statistic called R, derived from the model 
chi-square, is one measure of the overall predictive ability of the 
model. The R statistic is similar to the multiple correlation coeffi- 
cient in the normal setting, and incorporates a correction for the 
number of parameters being estimated. 

Individual r statistics ("partial rs") were computed for each 
predictor variable. Ranging in value from —1 to +1, the partial 
r provides a measure of the contribution of each variable to the 
prediction, net of the effects of the other predictors. In the top panel 
of Appendix Table I, the independent variables are listed in rank 
order, based on the relative sizes of their partial correlation coeffi- 
cients. Rank correlation coefficients showing the unadjusted rela- 
tionship between each predictor and the criterion are presented for 
comparison. 

Once the best-fitting logistic model has been determined, the 
observed cases can be classsified as readers or non-readers based 
on the model. A case is predicted to be 1 on the dependent varia- 
ble if the estimated probability for that case is greater than a cho- 
sen value. The proportion of cases correctly classified is another 
measure of the predictive ability of the model presented in Table 
I, as are the false positive rate and the false negative rate. The 
former is the proportion of predicted positives (readers) who were 
actually negatives (non-readers). The latter is the proportion of 
predicted negatives (non-readers) who were actually positives 
(readers). 

Because the predicted probabilities are continuous, the point 
at which they are divided into positives and negatives is somewhat 



90 Who Reads Literature? 

arbitrary. An alternative way of assessing the predictive ability of 
the model, one which is independent of a specific cut-point, is to 
calculate an index of rank-order correlation between the predicted 
probabilities and the dependent variable. This measure is also shown 
for each model. 

Appendix Table II summarizes the results of multiple-logistic 
regressions in which the dependent variable was whether the respon- 
dent had read poetry or attended a poetry reading during the previ- 
ous 12 months, as reported in the 1982 and 1985 SPPA. The 
predictor variables were the same as those in Table I. Appendix 
Table HI summarizes regression models in which the criterion was 
whether the respondent reported doing any creative writing dur- 
ing the previous 12 months, and the predictor variables were again 
the same. 

Substantive conclusions derived from these regression analyses 
are described at appropriate points in the main text. 



NOTES 

1. S.H. Walker and D.B. Duncan, "Estimation of the Probability of 
an Event as a Function of Several Independent Variables," Biometrika, 
54 (1967): 167-179. 

2. S.J. Press and S. Wilson, "Choosing Between Logistic Regression 
and Discriminant Analysis," Journal of the American Statistical As- 
sociation, 73 (1978): 699-705. 

3. Frank E. Harrell, Jr., "The LOGIST Procedure," in SUGI Sup- 
plemental Library User's Guide, 1983 Edition, (Cary, North Caro- 
lina: SAS Institute, Inc., 1983), 181-202. 

4. Alfred DeMaris, "Interpreting Logistic Regression Results: A Crit- 
ical Commentary," Journal of Marriage and the Family, 52 (Febru- 
ary 1990): 271-277. 

5. S. Philip Morgan and Jay D. Teachman, "Logistic Regression: 
Description, Examples, and Comparisons," Journal of Marriage and 
the Family, 50 (November 1988): 929-936. 



TABLES TO THE APPENDIX 



92 Who Reads Literature? 



TABLE I. Multiple Logistic Models Predicting Whether Adults Have Read Liter- 
ature in Last Year, Based on their Demographic Characteristics (Age, Sex, 
Race, Education, Income, and Metropolitan Residence), U.S. Adults 18 and 
Over, 1982 and 1985. 





Contribution of Indivi 


dual Predictors 






1982 




1 


985 


Variable 


Rank Obs. r Adj. r 


Rank Adj. r 


Education 


1 


.39 


.27** 


1 


.26** 


Gender 


2 


.14 


i / * * 

. 1 o 


2 


.16** 


Income 


3 


.20 


.05** 


3 


.06** 


Race 


4 


-.10 


.05** 


4 


-.05** 


Age 


5 


-.11 


.02** 


— 


.00 


Non-Metro Residence 


6 


-.07 


.01* 


5 


-.03* 


Central City Residence 


— 


.00 


.00 


— 


.00 






Regression Coefficients 








1982 




1985 








Standard 






Standard 


Variable 


Beta 


Error 




Beta 


Error 


Intercept 


-2.48 


.109 




-2.33 


.105 


Education 












(years attained) 


.13 


.003 




.12 


.004 


Sex (Male = 0, 












Female = 1) 


.87 


.037 




.86 


.041 


Income 


.05 


.007 




.04 


.006 


Race (Non-Black = 0, 












Black = 1) 


- .45 


.063 




- .46 


.069 


Age (in years) 


- .003 


.001 




.000 


.001 


Non-Metro Residence 












(= 1, else = 0) 


- .09 


.043 




- .18 


.049 


Central City Residence 












(= 1, else = 0) 


.02 


.046 




.003 


.050 



Predictive Accuracy 



Index 


1982 


1985 


Proportion of Cases 






Correctly Classified 


69% 


68% 


False Positive Rate 


26% 


27% 


False Negative Rate 


37% 


38% 


Multiple Correlation Coefficient (R) 


.38** 


.36** 


Rank Correlation Between Predicted 






Probability and Response 


.49** 


.48** 


Number of Cases 1 


5,667 


12,361 



Technical Appendix 93 



** p < 


.01 


*p< 


.05 


+ p < 


.10 


Obs. r : 


= c 



Observed correlation between predictor and criterion. 

Adj. r = Partial correlation between predictor and criterion, net of effects 
of other predictors in model. 

Source: N. Zill and M. Winglee, analysis of public use tapes from 1982 and 
1985 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, National Endowment 
for the Arts, and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1987. 



94 Who Reads Literature? 



TABLE II. Multiple Logistic Models Predicting Whether Adults Have Read Po- 
etry in Last Year, Based on their Demographic Characteristics (Age, Gender, 
Race, Education, Income, and Metropolitan Residence), U.S. Adults 18 and 
Over, 1982 and 1985. 







Contr 


bution of Indiv 


dual Predictors 






l 


982 




1985 


Variable 


Rank Obs. r Adj. r 


Rank 


Adj. r 


Education 


1 




27 


.24** 


1 


.18** 


Gender 


2 




08 


,i r* 


2 


.09** 


Age 


3 


- 


1 1 


.05** 


— 


.00 


Non-Metro Residence 


4 


- 


02 


.03* 


— 


.00 


Central City Residence 


5 




01 


.02 + 


— 


.00 


Income 


6 




07 


.02 + 


— 


.00 


Race 


— 


- 


04 


.01 


3 


-.03 + 








Regression Coefficients 








19 


82 




1985 










Standard 




Standard 


Variable 


Beta 


Error 




Beta 


Error 


Intercept 


-3.02 


.248 




-2.89 


.305 


Education 














(years attained) 




.1 1 


.007 




.08 


.009 


Gender (Male = 0, 














Female = 1) 




.59 


.088 




.49 


.1 15 


Age (in years) 


- 


.009 


.003 




- .001 


.003 


Non-Metro Residence 














(= 1, else = 0) 




.21 


.103 




- .09 


.137 


Central City Residence 














(= |, else = 0) 




.18 


.106 




- .09 


.139 


Income 


- 


.03 


.015 




.009 


.017 


Race (Non-Black = 0, 














Black = 1) 


- 


.23 


.156 




- .41 


.216 








Predictive Accuracy 




Index 






1982 




1985 




Proportion of Cases 














Correctly Classified 






76% 




75% 




False Positive Rate 






68% 




71% 




False Negative Rate 






13% 




14% 




Multiple Correlation Coefficienl 


:(R) 


29** 




.21** 




Rank Correlation Between Predicted 










Probability and Response 




41** 




.32** 




Number of Cases 




3 


,849 




2,132 





Technical Appendix 95 



*• p < .01 

* p < .05 
+ p < .10 

Obs. r = Observed correlation between predictor and criterion. 

Adj. r = Partial correlation between predictor and criterion, net of effects 
of other predictors in model. 

Source: N. Zill and M. Winglee, analysis of public use tapes from 1982 and 
1985 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, National Endowment 
for the Arts, and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1987. 



96 Who Reads Literature? 



TABLE III. Multiple Logistic Models Predicting Whether Adults Have Done 
Creative Writing in Last Year, Based on their Demographic Characteristics 
(Age, Gender, Race, Education, Income, and Metropolitan Residence), U.S. 
Adults 18 and Over, 1982 and 1985. 





Contribution of Indivi 


dual Predictors 






1982 




1985 


Variable 


Rank < 


Dbs. r Adj. r 


Rank 


Adj. r 


Education 


1 


.17 


-J-)** 


1 


-J-}** 


Age 


2 


-.14 


1 A** 


2 


-.12** 


Gender 


3 


.06 


.10** 


4 


.08** 


Central City Residence 


4 


.04 


.05* 


— 


.00 


Income 


5 


.03 


.03 + 


— 


.00 


Non-Metro Residence 


— 


-.04 


.00 


3 


-.09** 


Race 


— 


-.01 


.00 


— 


.00 






Regression Coefficients 








1982 




1985 








Standard 




Standard 


Variable 


Beta 


Error 




Beta 


Error 


Intercept 


-3.54 


.400 




-3.93 


.523 


Education 












(years attained) 


.12 


.012 




.12 


.017 


Age (in years) 


- .03 


.005 




- .03 


.007 


Gender (Male = 0, 












Female = 1) 


.65 


.144 




.55 


.189 


Central City Residence 












(= 1, else = 0) 


.41 


.164 




- .03 


.208 


Income 


- .05 


.024 




.003 


.028 


Non-Metro Residence 












(= 1, else = 0) 


- .07 


.179 




- .84 


.273 


Race (Non-Black = 0, 












Black = 1) 


- .30 


.253 




- .31 


.346 






Predictive Accuracy 




Index 




1982 




1985 




Proportion of Cases 












Correctly Classified 




92% 




92% 




False Positive Rate 




88% 




87% 




False Negative Rate 




3% 




3% 




Multiple Correlation Coefficient (R) 


-y~\ * * 




.32** 




Rank Correlation Between Predicted 










Probability and Response 


.51** 




.54** 




Number of Cases 




3,848 




2,137 





Technical Appendix 97 



** p < 


.01 


*p< 


.05 


+ p < 


.10 


Obs. r = 


= C 



Observed correlation between predictor and criterion. 

Adj. r = Partial correlation between predictor and criterion, net of effects 
of other predictors in model. 

Source: N. Zill and M. Winglee, analysis of public use tapes from 1982 and 
1985 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, National Endowment 
for the Arts, and U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1987. 



Notes 



1. Jonathan Yardley, "The Increasing Irrelevance of Writing," The Washing- 
ton Post (Monday, December 8, 1986), D2. Idem, "Blanking Verse in 
the L.A. Times," The Washington Post (Monday, May 11, 1987), B2. 

2. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon 
and Schuster, 1987), 62. 

3. E.D. Hirsch, Jr. , Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know 
(Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1987). 

4. Nick Thimmesch, (Ed.), Aliteracy: People Who Can Read But Won't 
(Washington, DC: The American Enterprise Institute, 1984). 

5. Martha S. Hill, "Patterns of Time Use," in: Time, Goods, and Well- 
Being, F. Thomas Juster and Frank P. Stafford, Eds. (Ann Arbor, MI: 
Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, 1985), 138. 

6. John P. Robinson, et al. , Americans ' Participation in the Arts: A 1983-84 
Arts-Related Trend Study, Final Report (College Park, MD: University 
of Maryland Survey Research Center, 1986), 86-87. 

7. National Assessment of Educational Progress, Literature and U.S. His- 
tory: The Instructional Experience and Factual Knowledge of High 



1 00 Who Reads Literature? 

School Juniors , by A.N. Applebee, J. A. Langner, and Ina VS. Mullis 
(Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, October 1987), 10-13. See 
also: Lynne V. Cheney, American Memory: A Report on the Humani- 
ties in the Nation 's Public Schools, National Endowment for the Hu- 
manities Report No. NEH-636 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government 
Printing Office, 1987). Diane Ravitch and Chester E. Finn, Jr., What 
Do Our 17-Year Olds Know? A Report on the First National Assessment 
of History and Literature (New York: Harper & Row, 1987). 

8. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1987 
(107th edition), Table No. 368, "Quantity of Books Sold and Value of 
U.S. Domestic Consumer Expenditures, by Type of Publication and Mar- 
ket Area: 1974 to 1985." (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing 
Office, 1986). 

9. National Assessment of Educational Progress, Literature and U.S. His- 
tory. Lynne V. Cheney, American Memory: A Report on the Humani- 
ties in the Nation's Public Schools. Diane Ravitch and Chester E. Finn, 
Jr., What Do Our 17-Year Olds Know? 

10. J. P. Robinson, C. A. Keegan, T. Hanford, and T. A. Triplett, Public Par- 
ticipation in the Arts: Final Report on the 1982 Survey, prepared under 
Grant No. 12-4050-003 from the National Endowment for the Arts (Col- 
lege Park, MD: University of Maryland Survey Research Center, Oc- 
tober 1985), Chapter 7. See also R.J. Orend, Socialization And 
Participation in the Arts, (National Endowment for the Arts, 1989). 

11. National Assessment of Educational Progress, Music 1971-79: Results 
from the Second National Music Assessment, Report No. 10-Mu-01 (Den- 
ver, CO: Education Commission of the States, November 1981). Idem, 
Art and Young Americans, 1974-79: Results from the Second National 
Art Assessment, Report No. 10-A-01 (Denver, CO: Education Commis- 
sion of the States, December 1981). 

12. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1987 
(107th edition), Table No. 370, "New Books and New Editions Published 
by Subject, 1970 to 1985, . . . ," (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Print- 
ing Office, 1986). 

13. John P. Dessauer, "U.S. Retail Book Sales by Subject: A First Estimate," 
Book Research Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 4, Winter 1986-1987, 15-17. 

14. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1987 
(107th edition), Table No. 370, "New Books and New Editions Published 
by Subject, 1970 to 1985, . . .". 

15. For methodology of the SPPA studies see Robinson et al., Public Par- 
ticipation in the Arts: Final Report on the 1982 Survey. John P. Robin- 



Motes 101 

son, Carol A. Keegan, Marcia Karth and Timothy A. Triplett, Public 
Participation in the Arts: Final Report on the 1985 Survey (College Park, 
MD: University of Maryland Survey Research Center, December 1986), 
Chapter 2 and Appendix A. For methodology of the ARTS survey see 
John P. Robinson et al. , Americans ' Participation in the Arts: A 1983-84 
Arts-Related Trend Study. For methodology of the BISG study see Market 
Facts, Inc.and Research & Forecasts, Inc. , 1983 Consumer Research 
Study on Reading and Book Purchasing. Vol.1: Focus on Adults (New 
York: Book Industry Study Group, Inc., 1984), 219. 

16. Peter Mann, From Author to Reader: A Social Study of Books (London: 
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982), 147. 

17. See Robinson et al. , Final Report on the 1982 Survey, Final Report on 
the 1985 Survey. 

18. The 65-percent figure represents the projected number of readers of liter- 
ature divided by the projected number of readers of books and maga- 
zines. When the two survey items were actually cross-tabulated against 
one another, a small percentage of respondents were found to have giv- 
en inconsistent responses. That is, they said that they read literature in 
the previous 12 months, but did not read books or magazines. Thus, 
the proportion derived from cross-tabulation is slightly lower than the 
figure cited. 

19. The BISG figures on fiction book readership (39 percent) and overall 
book readership (50 percent) were lower than the SPPA figure on liter- 
ature readership (56 percent). This is probably because the BISG used 
a 6-month reference period, and the SPPA, a 12-month reference peri- 
od. Also, the BISG questions referred only to books, whereas the SPPA 
question included fiction, poetry, and plays in magazines as well as in 
books. The BISG figure on overall readership (92 percent) was higher 
than the SPPA figure (86 percent), probably because the BISG ques- 
tion included newspapers, which were not mentioned by the SPPA. 

20. Mann, From Author to Reader: A Social Study of Books, pp. 147-148. 
Idem, "The Novel in British Society," Poetics, Vol. 12, 435-448, 1983, 
442). 

21. Kay Gill and Donald P. Boyden, (Eds.), Gale Directory of Publications, 
120th Edition (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1988). The Standard 
Periodical Directory, Tenth Edition (New York: Oxbridge Communica- 
tions, 1987). Yardley, "Blanking Verse in the L.A. Times." 

22. Dessauer, "U.S. Retail Book Sales by Subject." 

23. Market Facts, Inc., 1983 Consumer Research Study, 1: 167-168. 

24. Dessauer, "U.S. Retail Book Sales by Subject." 



1 02 Who Reads Li terature? 

25. Market Facts, Inc., 1983 Consumer Research Study, 1: 71. 

26. Robinson et al., Final Report on the 1982 Survey, Chapter 3. 

27. L.A. Wood, "Demographics of Mass Market Consumers," Book Re- 
search Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 1987, 31-39. 

28. Market Facts, Inc., 1983 Consumer Research Study, 1: 64-68. 

29. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1987 
(107th edition), Table No. 368, "Quantity of Books Sold and Value of 
U.S. Domestic Consumer Expenditures, by Type of Publication and Mar- 
ket Area: 1974 to 1985." 

30. William S. Lofquist, "Book Publishing," U.S. Department of Commerce, 
U.S. Industrial Outlook — 1988, 1988, 29-9. 

31. J.G. Bachman, L.D. Johnston, and P.M. O'Malley, Monitoring the Fu- 
ture (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, Institute for Social Re- 
search, annual volumes, 1975-1986). See also: "Daily Activity Patterns 
of High School Seniors," Select Committee on Children, Youth, and 
Families, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Children and Their Fam- 
ilies: Current Conditions and Recent Trends, 1989 (Washington, DC: 
U.S. Government Printing Office, September 1989J; 226-227. 

32. Lofquist, "Book Publishing," 29-7—29-11. 

33. Robinson et al., Americans' Participation in the Arts. 

34. Mann, "The Novel in British Society," 443. 

35. Market Facts, Inc., 1983 Consumer Research Study, 1: passim. 

36. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1987 
(107th edition), Table No. 368, "Quantity of Books Sold and Value of 
U.S. Domestic Consumer Expenditures, by Type of Publication and Mar- 
ket Area: 1974 to 1985;" and Table No. 376, "Selected Recreational Ac- 
tivities: 1970 to 1985." 

37. Market Facts, Inc., 1983 Consumer Research Study, 1: passim. 

38. Eleanor E. Maccoby and Carol N. Jacklin, The Psychology of Sex Differ- 
ences (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1974), 83-87. National 
Center for Health Statistics, K.W. Schaie and J. Roberts, "School 
Achievement of Children 6-11 Years, as Measured by the Reading and 
Arithmetic Subtests of the Wide Range Achievement Test, United States," 
Vital and Health Statistics, Series 11, No. 103, Public Health Service 
(Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, June 1970). Idem, 
"School Achievement of Children by Demographic and Socioeconom- 
ic Factors, United States," Vital and Health Statistics, Series 11, No. 
109, DHEW Publication No. (HSM) 72-1011, Public Health Service 



Notes 103 

(Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, November 1971). 
National Center for Health Statistics, J. Roberts, "Intellectual Develop- 
ment of Children as Measured by the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for 
Children, United States," Vital and Health Statistics, Series 11, No. 107, 
DHEW Publication No. (HSM) 72-1004, Public Health Service 
(Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, August 1971). Idem, 
"Intellectual Development of Children by Demographic and Socioeco- 
nomic Factors, United States," Vital and Health Statistics, Series 11, 
No. 110, DHEW Publication No. (HSM) 72-1012, Public Health Serv- 
ice (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 1971). 
National Center for Health Statistics, D.K. Vogt, "Literacy Among 
Youths 12-17 Years, United States," Vital and Health Statistics, Series 
11, No. 131, DHEW Publication No. (HRA) 74-1613, Public Health Serv- 
ice (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 
1973). National Assessment of Educational Progress, "Males Dominate 
in Educational Success," Spotlight: NAEP Newsletter, Vol. VIII, No. 
5, October 1975 (Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States). 
Alan Feingold, "Cognitive Gender Differences Are Disappearing," 
American Psychologist, Vol. 43, No. 2, February 1988, 95-103. 

39. Nicholas Zill and James L. Peterson, "Learning to Do Things Without 
Help," in Luis M. Laosa & Irving E. Sigel (Eds.), Families As Learn- 
ing Environments for Children (New York: Plenum Publishing, 1982), 
343-374. 

40. National Center for Health Statistics, D.C. Hitchcock and G.D. Pinder, 
"Reading and Arithmetic Achievement Among Youths 12-17 Years, as 
Measured by the Wide Range Achievement Test, United States," Vital 
and Health Statistics, Series 11, No. 136, DHEW Publication No. (HRA) 
74-1618, Public Health Service (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Print- 
ing Office, February 1974). 

41. L. Ramist and S. Arbeiter, Profiles, College-Bound Seniors, 1985 (New 
York: College Entrance Examination Board, 1986), 12-13, 22-23, 102, 
and 14, 24. 

42. de Beauvoir, Simone, The Coming of Age, (translation by Patrick O'Brian 
of La Vieillesse), (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1972), 398-404. 

"Writing is. . .a complex activity: it means a simultaneous prefer- 
ence for the imaginary and a desire to communicate. . .The pro- 
ject of writing therefore implies a tension between a refusal of 
the world in which men live and a certain appeal to men them- 
selves: the writer is both for and against them. This is a difficult 
position: it implies very lively passions; and to be maintained for 
a considerable length of time it calls for strength. 

"Old age reduces strength; it deadens emotion. . .The ten- 



1 04 Who Reads Li ter a t lire? 

sion born of the reconciliation of two projects that are if not con- 
tradictory then at least divergent, slackens. The elderly writer finds 
himself deprived of that quality which Flaubert called alacrite." 
(pp. 400-401) 

43. Edward C. Bryant, Ezra Glaser, Morris H. Hansen, and Arthur Kirsch, 
Associations Between Educational Outcomes and Background Variables: 
A Review of Selected Literature, Contract Report by Westat, Inc., A 
Monograph of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (Den- 
ver, CO: Education Commission of the States, 1974). 

44. National Assessment of Educational Progress, The Reading Report Card, 
1971-88: Trends from the Nation's Report Card, by Ina V.S. Mullis and 
Lynn B. Jenkins, Report No. 19-R-01, (Princeton, NJ: Educational Test- 
ing Service, January 1990), 64. 

45. Edward C. Bryant, Ezra Glaser, Morris H. Hansen, and Arthur Kirsch, 
Associations Between Educational Outcomes and Background Variables: 
A Review of Selected Literature. Alison Clarke-Stewart, Child Care in 
the Family: A Review of Research and Some Propositions for Policy (New 
York: Academic Press, 1977). Lee Willerman, "Effects of Families on 
Intellectual Development," American Psychologist, Vol. 34, No. 10, Oc- 
tober 1979, 923-929. 

46. Robinson et al., Final Report on the 1982 Survey, Chapter 7. Orend, 
Socialization and Participation In The Arts. 

47. Lee Willerman, "Effects of Families on Intellectual Development." 

48. Robinson et al., Final Report on the 1982 Survey, Chapter 7. Orend, 
Socialization and Participation In The Arts. 

49. Susan G. Timmer, Jacquelynne Eccles, and Keith O'Brien, "How Chil- 
dren Use Time;" and Martha S. Hill, "Patterns of Time Use," in F. Tho- 
mas Juster and Frank P. Stafford (Eds.), Time, Goods, and Well-Being 
(Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, 
1985). John P. Robinson, How Americans Use Time: A Social- 
Psychological Analysis of Everyday Behavior (New York: Praeger, 1977). 

50. Market Facts, Inc., 1983 Consumer Research Study, 143-145. 

51. Ibid., pp. 133-137. 

52. Hill, "Patterns of Time Use," Table 7.1, 141. 

53. William J. Bennett, American Education: Making It Work (Washington, 
DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, April 1988). Bloom, Closing 
of the American Mind, Cheney, American Memory, Hirsch, Cultural 
Literacy. Elizabeth Castor, "The Day of the Laureate: Warren Assumes 
His Mantle & Braves the Press, for Love of Poetry," The Washington 



Hotes 105 

Post, October 7, 1986, Dl. Ravitch, Finn, What Do Our 17-Year-Olds 
Know?; The National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Na- 
tion at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform (Washington, DC: 
U.S. Government Printing Office, April 1983). 

54. Bennett, American Education, 8-14. Congressional Budget Office, 1987, 
Educational Achievement: Explanations and Implications of Recent 
Trends (Washington, DC: Congressional Budget Office, 1987). Nicho- 
las Zill and C.C. Rogers, "Recent Trends in the Well-Being of Children 
in the United States and their Implications for Public Policy," in An- 
drew Cherlin (Ed.), Family Change and Public Policy (Washington, DC: 
The Urban Institute Press, 1988), Chapter 2. 

55. National Assessment of Educational Progress, Literature and U.S. 
History. 

56. National Assessment of Educational Progress, Reading, Thinking, and 
Writing: Results from the 1979-80 National Assessment of Reading and 
Literature (Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States, October 
1981). 

57. National Assessment of Educational Progress, Literacy: Profiles of 
America 's Young Adults, by Irwin S. Kirsch and Ann Jungeblut, Report 
No. 16-PL-02 (Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1986). 

58. National Assessment of Educational Progress, The Reading Report Card, 
1971-88: Trends from the Nation's Report Card, by Ina V.S. Mullis and 
Lynn B. Jenkins, Report No. 19-R-01, (Princeton, NJ: Educational Test- 
ing Service, January 1990). Idem., The Writing Report Card, 1984-88, 
by Arthur N. Applebee, Judith A. Langer, Ina V.S. Mullis, and Lynn 
B. Jenkins, Report No. 19-W-01, (Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing 
Service, January 1990). 

59. Alan C. Purves et al., Reading and Literature: American Achievement 
in International Perspective, NCTE Research Report No. 20 (Urbana, 
IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1981). 

60. Alan C. Purves, Literature Education in Ten Countries, International 
Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, International 
Studies in Evaluation II (Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell; New York: 
John Wiley, 1973). 

61. College Board Admissions Testing Program, Statistical Summaries for 
Academic Years 1980-1981 through 1985-1986, unpublished tabulations 
supplied by Alicia Schmitt, Educational Testing Service, (Princeton, 
NJ, February 1987). 

62. Yardley, "The Increasing Irrelevance of Writing." 



1 06 Who Reads literature? 

63. Hilton Kramer, The New Criterion Reader: The First Five Years (New 
York: The Free Press, 1988). Jonathan Yardley, "Paradise Tossed: The 
Fall of Literary Standards," The Washington Post, January 11, 1988, B2. 

64. Robert Pattison, The Triumph of Vulgarity: Rock Music in the Mirror 
of Romanticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). 

65. Rubenstein, E.A., G.A. Comstock, and J.P. Murray (Eds.), Television 
and Social Behavior, (Vol. 4): Television in Day-to-Day Life: Patterns 
of Use, (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1972). 
Schramm, Wilbur, Big Media, Little Media: Tools and Technologies for 
Instruction, (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1977). 

66. Heard, Alex, "Out There: Versed Things First," The Washington Post 
Magazine, April 17, 1988, 9-10. 

67. Dan Lacy, "Publishing Enters the Eighties," in The State of the Book 
World, 1980, The Center for the Book Viewpoint Series, No. 4 (Washing- 
ton, DC: The Library of Congress, 1980) 11-25; 23. 

68. Market Facts, Inc., 1983 Consumer Research Study, 133-136; 145. 

69. Nicholas Spenceley, "The Readership of Literary Fiction: A Survey of 
Library Users in the Sheffield Area," M.A. Dissertation, Postgraduate 
School of Librarianship, Sheffield University, 1980. As described in Peter 
H. Mann, "The Novel in British Society." 

70. Jonathan Yardley, "The Soft-Cover Salvation of Modern Fiction," The 
Washington Post, February 16, 1987, D2. 



Index 



Index 



A 

Ancient Evenings, 24 

age, as a factor determining reading habits, 42-44 

Atlantic, The, 9 

Arts-Related Trend Study (ARTS), 4, 10, 23, 25 

B 

Bellow, Saul, viii 

Bestseller lists, 3 

Bloom, Allan, 2 

Book Industry Study Group (BISG), 4, 9, 10, 14, 18, 19 

book sales, trends, 18 

Brecht, Bertol, 26 

C 

Chekhov, Anton, 1 

Children, as a factor determining reading habits, 66, 68 

Catcher in the Rye, 2 

Color Purple, The, 24 

Colwin, Laurie, ix 

Couples, 24 

Closing of the American Mind, The, 2 

creating writing, 27, 61 

Cultural Literacy, 2 

D 

demographic characteristics of readers, 11; predicting participation 

based on demographics, 49 
Dessauer, John P., 9, 10 
Dickens, Charles, 1, 3, 24 
Dickinson, Emily, 1, 26 
Dostoyevsky, 1 
drama, 3 



E 

Eliot, T.S., 26 

education, as a factor determining reading habits, 35-37, 52, 53; 

deterioration, 75-77 
Educational Testing Service, 3 
employment, as a factor determining reading habits, 62-66 

F 

Family Circle, 25 

fiction, see also novels, short stories, 29 

Fitzgerald, F. Scott, 3 

Frost, Robert, 26 

G 

gender, as a factor determining reading habits, 39-42 
geography, distribution of readers, 12; variation in literary participa- 
tion, 47-49 
Gershwin, George, 3 
Graham, Martha, 3 

H 

Hawthorne, Nathianel, 3 
Hellman, Lillian, 26 
Hemingway, Ernest, 1, 24 
Hirsch, E.D., 2 
Holt, Victoria, 24 

I 

income, as a factor determining reading habits, 38 

Irvine, Washington, 1 

J 

James, Henry, 24 

K 

Keillor, Garrison, 32 
King, Stephen, viii, 24, 32 
Krantz, Judith, ix, 24 

L 

L'Amour, Louis, 24 

leisure activities of readers, 14, 60 

literature reading, past growth 17; decline 18; literary criticism, 3 



Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 26 
Los Angeles Times Book Review, 9 

M 

MacDonald, John D., 32 

Mann, Peter, 25 

Mailer, Norman, 24 

marital status, as a factor determining reading habits, 66-67 

mass market books, 31 

Melville, Herman, 1 

Merrill, James, viii, 32 

minority writers, 74 

movies, 31 

N 

nation of readers, 1 

National Geographic, 25 

Naylor, Gloria, ix 

New Yorker, The, 9 

Newsweek, 25 

novels, reading, 24, 28; classical, historical, and modern, 29 

O 

O'Neil, Eugene, 1 
Orwell, George, 2 

P 

Parade, 26 

Parker, Charlie, 3 

Percy, Walker, vii 

Plain, Belva, ix 

plays, reading of, 26, 28, 31 

Poe, Edgar Allan, 1, 26 

Pound, Ezra, 26 

poetry, 3, 9; sale of, 9; reading of, 26, 28, 30 

Pollock, Jackson, 3 

publishers, promotion, 80-81 

Pushkin, Alexander, 1 

R 

race/ethnicity, as a factor determining reading habits, 44-47; see also 

minority writers 
radio, see television 
reader, typical profiled, 1, 6 



Reader's Digest, 25, 25 
reading, encouraging, 81-86 
Redbook, 25 
Rich, Adrienne, viii, 32 

S 

Sandburg, Carl, 26 

Service, Robert \Y., 26 

Shakespeare, William, 1, 3, 26 

Shange, Ntozake, 26 

Shaw, Bernard, 26 

Sheldon, Sidney, 24 

short story, 25, 28 

Silverstein, Shel, 32 

Sophie's Choice, 24 

Soviet Union, 2 

Steele, Danielle, viii 

Streetcar Samed Desire, 2 

Stoppars, Tom, 26 

Styron, William, 24 

Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), 4, 7-22 

T 

television and radio, 2; role of, 69-72; influence of, 78-79 
technological change, 77 
Thoreau, Henry David, 1 
Tolstoy, Alexei,l, 24 
Twain, Mark, 1, 24 

U 

Updike, John, 24 

United Kingdom, 25 

W 

Walker, Alice, 24 
Whitman, Walt, 1 
Welty, Eudora, viii 
Williams, Tennessee, 2, 26 
Williams, William Carlos, 26 
women's movement, x 

Y 

Yardley, Jonathan, 1 

young adults, reading habits, 19 



$9.95 



"A BOOK THAT SHOULD BE OF INTEREST TO 
ANYONE IN THE LITERARY BUSINESS." 

— Booklist 



Nicholas Zill and Marianne Winglee present a revealing portrait of the nation's 
reading habits. In addition to the well-publicized discovery that a frightening 
number of Americans can't read, it turns out that many who can — don't. 

Focusing on who reads serious modern American literature— works by such 
writers as Ann Beattie, Gloria Naylor, David Mamet and Saul Bellow — the 
authors draw on extensive demographic information to report that the reading 
of contemporary works is the pastime of a distinct minority. According to Who 
Reads Literature, the proportion of Americans who read serious literature is 
between 10 and 25 percent; contemporary fiction, poetry, and drama attracts 
at best between 7 and 12 
percent of adults. 

"The typical reader of 
literature in the United 
States today. . .is a middle 
aged, white woman, living 
in the midwestern suburbs," 
say the authors. And they 
are more involved than non- 
readers in activities that 
traditionally are not 
thought of as "cultural" 
pursuits — watching tele- 
vision, going to the movies, 
playing sports, and doing 
volunteer or activist work. 

In addition to pinpointing 
just who is and isn't reading ^"i^^^^^™^^^™""^^^""^^™^ 
Adrienne Rich, Eudora Welty, and John Updike, Zill and Winglee suggest ways 
in which publishers, booksellers, and libraries might reach a wider audience by 
changing their marketing and promotion strategies. 

Who Reads Literature raises important questions about the vitality of our 
culture and education system. It tells us more about the United States as a 
nation of readers than simply what we have stacked up on our bedside table. 



"The perceived image of the literary' 
American reader as a bearded male 
academic in a tweed jacket with leather 
patches bears only scant connection 
to reality. . . . It's a woman's world 
now, and if we are to have in the next 
generation a literature of any con- 
sequence, it will be because women 

make it so." 

^From the foreword 

by Jonathan Yardley* 

* Adapted from Yardley's column "Readership Down" published 
in The Washington Post 8/20/90. Used by permission. 



NICHOLAS ZILL is a social psychologist and 
executive director of Child Trends, a non-profit 
research organization in Washington, D.C. 

MARIANNE WINGLEE is a senior statistical analyst 
at Decision Resource .Corporation in Washington, D.C.