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Readers Rule at the Box Office

Did you see Jimmy Kimmel’s Book Club/Fight Club skit with Oprah Winfrey?  It aired after the Oscars on February 29.  It was funny, I’ll admit.  But when Jimmy said “reading is BORING,” I couldn’t help cringing.
It feels like I hear this sentiment a lot, but it’s hard to quantify.  How many people read for pleasure anymore?  How many actually find it boring? 
I tried to find some relevant statistics, but the results were highly suspect.  Some were incomplete, others were contradictory.  It depends on how the question is asked.  Some focused on books purchased, but not read -- or whether books were started, but not finished.  Some focused on how many people visit book stores.  Recent studies take in the growth of e-books and how that has influenced reading, but it’s too early for real analysis in that arena.  I’ve included some of these statistics at the bottom of this post, if you are truly interested. 
But even if statistics were reliable, we don’t feel one way or another about reading because of surveys and polls.  And our perceptions about the state of reading are mostly based on anecdotal information – just like my Book Club/Fight Club example.  We observe behaviors and opinions and then extrapolate far-reaching results. 
And what do we conclude?  People don’t read.  And since we are readers (you’re reading a blog post about reading – I assume you’re all in) it either makes us feel elite, special and smarter J -- or it bothers us.
Well what kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t try to make you feel better – or at least more powerful?
As a reader, you may be in the minority, but you have wicked, awesome power.  Just by reading great books, you choose the stories that the non-reading world will love:  you choose the movies they see!
In 2011, the following movies hit the big screen, all based on novels: The Help, Water for Elephants, Sherlock Holmes, Breaking Dawn, Winnie the Pooh, The Lincoln Lawyer, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, One Day, The Three Musketeers, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, We Need to Talk about Kevin, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Money Ball, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, We Bought a Zoo and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
For 2012, anticipation could not be higher for The Hunger Games, based on Suzanne Collins amazing book, and hitting theaters this week. (I can’t wait!)
Later this year we’ll see even more:  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Anna Karenina, The Hobbit, Frankenweenie, One for the Money, The Life of Pi, The Lorax and the final installment of Breaking Dawn, just to name a few.
But your power as a reader is not simply reflected in a list of recent movies. Consider the overall record:
·  36 percent of the top fifty grossing movies were based on books.  If you include comic books, that figure increases to 42 percent (
·  70 percent of “the top 10 movies” – calculated daily by overall movie ratings – are based on books.  80 percent, if you include comic books (
·  47 percent of AFI’s 100 top movies of all time are based on literature (including mostly novels, five short stories, one novella and one musical adapted from Shakespeare).
I’m not going to surmise that watching Harry Potter movies turns kids into readers or suggest that movies based on books do a good job of capturing the essence of a book – my opinions on that will have to wait for another post.
But billions of dollars are spent making movies.  Billions.  The budget for The Hobbit, for example, is $270,000,000 (  When movie producers spend that kind of money, they want reliable evidence that a film will be well-received.  That’s why they often turn to well-loved books for their stories.
So, as if the intrinsic thrill of reading amazing adventures, bone-chilling thrillers or thought-provoking literature isn’t enough, now you can add another benefit to your bookish habits.  Readers Rule the World – the world of movies, at least!
When the National Endowment for the Arts studied reading trends in 2002, they focused most of their attention on readers of “literary works” and fleshed us out by race, gender and income level – probably at taxpayer expense.  Their mournful and obvious conclusion?  Reading has declined.
To me the most amusing statistic came from a 2007 study published by the British Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.  They reported that 40 percent of people surveyed admitted to lying about having read certain books.  Why?  To appear more knowledgeable or scholarly.
Wait a minute.  So they lied about the books they read, but then later admitted they lied?  How reliable is that information?  
Here are some more statistics to consider:
In April 2011,  reported the following statistics, citing the Jenkins Group publishing firm:
·  One-third 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
But, warns us to be wary of statistics on reading, saying numbers can vary greatly depending on how the question is asked.  They list the following statistics:
  • In 2006, 38 percent of adults surveyed said they had spent time reading a book for pleasure during the previous day (USA Today)
  • In 2002, 57 percent of the U.S. population said they had read a book that year (National Endowment for the Arts)
  • In 2002, 70 percent of Americans said they had not visited a bookstore in five years (
  • In 2001, people in the U.S. reported that they read an average of more than 14 books each year (Gallup)
You can see why I can't extrapolate any reproducible data from these statistics.  (If you've ever taken a statistics class, you are probably already highly suspicious of statistics anyway.) 

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