Approximately 120,000 books are published in America every year. Sadly, few of us ever read them. At least, that’s what some recent stats suggest.
- 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
- 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
- 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year
- 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
- 57 percent of new books are not read to completion.
As a self-confessed bibliophile, that’s just depressing. I’m not sure which is worse, that even college graduates have such terrible reading habits, or that so many families didn’t even bother to buy a single book last year. (I have to confess that I rarely buy books from concrete-and-mortar bookstores either, though I still go on occasion to enjoy the ambiance. Yes, I’m a hypocrite that way.)
But, more importantly, I worry about this lack of attention to the written word for the church today. Granted, the church has often demonstrated the ability to flourish in non-literate cultures. So, reading itself isn’t the only medium of formation. But, in all the examples that come to mind, those cultures retained a strong emphasis on oral education. And,we’re not doing that. At the same time that we are neglecting the written word, we’re also at the tail-end of a decades long shift toward shorter sermons and fewer weekly services dedicated to serious lay development. Put those two together, and you have a recipe for spiritual anemia.
The American Library Associated has published a list of the top 100 banned/challenged books from 2000-2009. Here’s the top 10:
- Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
- Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
- The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
- And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
- Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
- Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
- His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
- TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Myracle, Lauren
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Apparently, I need to read controversial books a bit more, since the only ones I’ve read in the top 10 are the Harry Potter books, Of Mice and Men, and the His Dark Materials series.
Some interesting inclusions from the rest of the list:
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn comes in at #14. Still? After all these years, there’s still controversy. That by itself is a pretty impressive accomplishment. Go Twain.
- My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier hit #27. What’s the deal with this one? This was one of my favorite books as a kid. I don’t know how many times I read it, and I don’t remember anything particularly controversial. Maybe I just wasn’t sheltered enough as a child.
- I have the same question with the Bridge To Terabithia at 28. Is this really controversy worthy?
- #35 on the other hand is one that I haven’t read, but the title alone probably explains the controversy: Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison.
- The fact that The Kite Runner comes in at #50 is just a shame. Sure there’s a pretty tough scene in the book, but can’t we get past that and appreciate the power of the story?
- The Junie B. Jones books (#71)? Really? Did we run out of things to complain about?
- And, of course, there’s the normal list of great literature that touched on difficult themes and therefore should be kept from our children: The Color Purple (17), Catcher in the Rye (19), To Kill a Mockingbird (21), Brave New World (36), Fahrenheit 451 (69), and The Handmaid’s Tale (88).
I could keep going. There’s some great literature on this list. (It also looks like there’s some real garbage, but I can’t comment on books I haven’t read). Since I obviously haven’t read everything on the list, I’d be curious to know what books you think are on here that kids really should be reading.
Did you know that you have unlimited, untapped potential within you? Did you know that the power permeating everything that exists lies deep within you? And, did you know that you can find out how to tap into this mysterious well of semi-divine being for a mere $23.95 ($11.98 from Amazon)? That’s a pretty sweet deal.
Rhonda Byrne’s latest book The Power follows up on her earlier best-seller The Secret, and looks like it will be equally well-poised to tell people exactly what they want to hear. Check out the trailer. It’s quite well done. (If only my books had cool trailers like this. I’m sure that a book on the christological anthropology of Karl Barth as it relates to contemporary philosophy of mind could have been a bestseller if it just had a cool trailer.)
Tim Challies conducted a survey of his readers to find out a little about their book buying habits. There’s some interesting information in the survey results, but what I found most intriguing were the results regarding which publishing houses his readers thought had high/low credibility. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that Tim’s readers rated Crossway and Banner of Truth as the publishing houses with the highest credibility, but I was a little intrigued to see how low Baker scored on that chart. And, when Tim asked which publishing house had the lowest credibility, I was a little startled to see Zondervan at the top by a wide margin, with IVP in third. I certainly wouldn’t have expected either of those to score that high (or low depending on your perspective). Tim suggested that this might have been from Zondervan’s connection to emerging/emergent authors, and one of the commenters thought it might have to do with the TNIV debacle. Still interesting results.
Two questions come to my mind from this survey. First, what does it mean for a publishing house to have “credibility”? I got the distinct impression from the comments on Tim’s site that “credibility” meant a publishing house that consistently produced books you thought were theologically sound. Is that how you would assess the credibility of a publishing house?
Second, do you have preferred publishers? Do you even notice who publishes the books that you like? If there are particular publishers that you like, which ones are they? Or, if you’ve never noticed before, just look at the books that you’ve read and enjoyed recently. Do you see any patterns?