Real-life recession may cause more people to read fiction

More people are reading fiction for the first time in 26 years, and some of that increase may be due to the recession.

The National Endowment for the Arts reported in a report released Monday that for the first time since 1982, when the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting such data, the proportion of adults who had read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the past year has risen.

Reading fiction, while the real world around you falls apart, can be a lot more interesting than dealing with reality, it turns out.

WalletPop reported last month how libraries were becoming more popular as a way to save money, proving the value of a free library card.

According to a New York Times story on the NEA report, an education professor said it was impossible to do more than speculate why literary reading rates had increased. But she said the rise could just as easily be attributed to changes in health care or a need for escape in difficult economic times.

The NEA report, titled "Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy," found that just more than half of adults read some kind of so-called literary work. The level still isn't as high as it was in 1982 or 1992.

The NEA attributed some of the rise to "The Big Read," a national program where communities are urged to read one book, such as "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Other factors cited include Oprah Winfrey's book club, the popularity of the "Harry Potter" series and readers being encouraged to read in whatever medium they desire.

The survey also found that the proportion of adults who said they had read any kind of a book, fiction or nonfiction, that was not required for work or school declined slightly since 2002, to 54.3% from 56.6%. The drop could be attributed to less nonfiction reading. The number may have also dropped because some people might not count the reading they do online or on electronic readers like the Kindle as "book" reading.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at

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