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DEAR READER: Too many Americans didn't read in 2013

Thursday, February 13, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:51 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 25, 2014

COLUMBIA — A recent report about the decline in book reading in America ought to make us weep.

It certainly stunned and depressed me.

It's unfathomable, to me, to know that almost 25 percent of American adults did not read a single book in 2013. Not one. 

How can they live?

The Pew Research Center didn't answer that question in its mid-January report on the state of reading in the U.S. But it did counterbalance that sad statistic with a glass is three-quarters full perspective, because while a quarter of U.S. adults didn't read any books, 75 percent read at least one book and most read more.

The study set out to measure the growth in e-reading and found that both ownership of tablet devices and reading e-books increased in 2013 over 2012. 

"The percentage of adults who read an e-book in the past year has risen to 28%, up from 23% at the end of 2012," the report stated. "At the same time, about seven in ten Americans reported reading a book in print, up four percentage points after a slight dip in 2012, and 14 percent of adults listened to an audiobook."

That feels better, but I'm still concerned about those poor nonreaders.


Maria Konnikova’s “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes” apparently could just as readily be named "Copy Editors: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes."

According to New York Times review of Konnikova's book by Katherine Bouton, Konnikova explains Holmes' way of thinking when solving a crime is to not believe anything. 

"The first step is to question everything. Citing the psychologist Daniel Gilbert, Ms. Konnikova points out that for our brains to process something, we must initially, momentarily, believe it," Bouton wrote. "If you hear the term 'pink elephant,' you picture a pink elephant for a split second before you 'effortfully engage in disbelieving' it."

And that is how Holmes pulls it off and looks ever so smart in the process — he simply does not believe anything beyond a flash of processing, and then the hunt is on.

Copy editors, good ones, that is, work much the same way. The overarching question posed on an editing desk is: Do you have any evidence to support this? 

As Bouton cites Konnikova:

“Holmes’s trick is to treat every thought, every experience and every perception the way he would a pink elephant. In other words, begin with a healthy dose of skepticism instead of the credulity that is your mind’s natural state of being.”

It certainly is eerily close to what I tell copy editing students each semester.

Alas, Sherlock Holmes isn't real. And, I'm pretty sure the luxurious time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could take to write and rewrite his fabulous character's thoughts and deeds far exceeds the time any copy editor ever has to edit a story. But, thanks to Konnikova's book, we can better train ourselves to ask more questions and in the process learn more answers.


Congratulations are in order for BuzzFeed, a barely 8-year-old site that describes itself as publishing "news and entertainment in the language of the web," for its new style guide.

It's online only, of course. According to Emmy Favilla, a BuzzFeed staff member, there are no current plans to publish in print edition.

But, who knew? I suppose it shouldn't be too surprising. Yahoo published its style guide in 2010 — in a book format. Really.

An introductory paragraph explaining why BuzzFeed wrote a style guide says: "We value consistency and accuracy across those formats and categories. (For instance, knowing how to treat numbers is important, but so is correctly spelling 'fangirl.')"

Couldn't have said it better myself.


For January's Show Me the Errors contest, there were nine participants who submitted a total of 11 errors. We certainly appreciate their entries and interest in helping ColumbiaMissourian.com be as error free as possible. The winner for this month is Heather Williams. She will receive a Missourian T-shirt and a copy of  "Yes, I Could Care Less" by Bill Walsh.

Maggie Walter is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and an interactive news editor at ColumbiaMissourian.com. February is Library Lovers' Month — I'm not making this up — be sure to say thanks to your favorite folks for helping you find a good book to read — even if the only one you'll read this year.


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Comments

Richard Saunders February 13, 2014 | 10:22 a.m.

I'm going to guess the reader vs. non-reader statistic can be correlated to a single variable. Were they read to by their parents when they were a small child?

Question is, how can this cycle be interrupted when our social support structures are collapsing, due to them being undermined by the unsustainable debt growth engineered by the politicos in DC with their partner in crime, the Not-Federal, Not-Reserve System?

JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, et al., are quietly destroying the world. The cognitive dissonance this creates shows up in statistics like these, as parents are too stressed by the IMPOSSIBILITY of trying to keep up, and thus have limited time for proper parenting between working multiple part-time jobs.

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