Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Island of Readers, Population: 1 (Me)

Laura Miller's piece on Why Men Don't Read Books over at goes over ground that's already well-trodden: men don't read (idiots!), women do (geniuses!). Miller discards anecdotal evidence and somehow links the lack of males in the publishing business to the gender statistics of readership.

The only statistics I can cite with certainty are my own. For the past five years, I've kept a reading log, and the annual totals have been pretty consistent: 2005 (50), 2006 (40), 2007 (61), 2008 (66), 2009 (46). This year, I'm right on track with 19 books under my belt, ranging from the regrettable (James Michener's Carribean) to the remarkable (Cormac McCarthy's "The Road").

Anecdotally, however, I can tell you that not only do I feel like the Last Male Reader in America, I only need one hand to count the number of people--male or female--with whom I've had a book-centered discussion in the past year (I'm talking about real life here; the Internet doesn't count--anyone online can lie about his or her reading habits). My wife doesn't read with any sort of regularity, my kids don't brag about the size of their libraries, none of my co-workers randomly blurt out statements like "I was reading Moby-Dick the other night, and..." Only one of my friends admits to being a member of a book club ("But I'm not all that committed," she says). My mother, God love her, is the only person who regularly asks me, "Read any good books lately?"

It is by nature a solitary hobby. We curl ourselves into corners with our books and seldom make eye contact with anyone else in the room. Reading is such a private act that it's hard to really talk about it in public. Sometimes I feel all alone in my obsession; I'm not complaining, just stating the fact that I rarely make contact with Others Like Me.

This is not to say I'm not surrounded by readers. Maybe I am. Maybe all those shoppers I see in Wal-Mart are only masking their true habits of reading with all that chatter about American Idol, Facebook, and Sandra Bullock's divorce.

All I know is I never see anyone else walking around with the scarlet letter R pinned to their shirt.


  1. I think it's true that women read more than men, but to say that men don't read is to say things like women don't like sports. Like you, I've kept a log and even as the father of an infant (now toddler) I've kept it up reasonably well. Hell, I'm reading The Brothers Karamazov right now - sure it's taken me months so far, but I'm doing it.

    You. Are. Not. Alone.

  2. greebs,

    How do I know you're not lying to me? I mean, c'mon! Dostoevsky? Fess up: you're really reading "Mack Bolan, Executioner," aren't you?

    In all seriousness, there's plenty of room here on my island for you. I'll scoot over.

  3. I read, but only for the nekkid wimmens.

  4. I spent spring break reading Crime and Punishment, but of course I'm only Virtual.