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More than half of American adults read books for pleasure in 2012

PoetryPoliticsArtArts and CultureJhumpa Lahiri

The good news: According to a new report from the National Endowment for the Arts, more than half of American adults read books for pleasure in 2012. The bad news is that the percentage of adults reading works of literature -- in the NEA's definition, novels, short stories, poetry or plays -- has declined since 2008, returning to 2002 lows.

Fifty-seven percent of American adults read one or more books not required for work or school in 2012 -- that's 128 million readers.

Some other interesting findings: More women (64%) read than men (45%). The biggest readers are older adults; 65- to 74-year-olds have the highest rate of reading of any age group, with 61% reading at least one book in 2012. Hispanic Americans read at lower rates than any other ethnic group (36%) but the percentage of Hispanic Americans reading for pleasure has gone up since 2008 (when it was 33%).

The worst news is for poets: People reading poetry for pleasure has plunged in the last decade, dropping by 45%. Among adults who read books for pleasure, less than 7% now say they read poetry.

Literature overall -- from which the NEA excludes nonfiction -- has suffered a decline. Adults who read novels, poetry, short fiction and plays have dropped in every age group since 2008. The biggest ground was lost among readers in middle age; 35- to 44-year-olds dropped by nearly 6%; and both 45- to 54-year-olds and 55- to 63-year-olds by 5%.

In its report, the NEA has a few bar graphs demonstrating its findings, but nothing particularly special. On Sept. 30, it will launch an infographic grants initiative at challenge.gov. The NEA will award more than $20,000 to "create interactive visualization tools" that will help make the arts data results "more accessible to the public." 

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PoetryPoliticsArtArts and CultureJhumpa Lahiri
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