Thursday, August 30, 2007

Above average...and still in need of grace

CNN has an article on the reading habits of Americans (shouldn't we be called something that doesn't imply we own the entire continent?), based on an AP-Ipsos poll.

Here are some of the poll numbers and observations:
  • One in four adults say they read no books at all in the past year.
  • The typical person claimed to have read four books in the last year.
  • Among those who said they had read books, the median figure -- with half reading more, half fewer -- was nine books for women and five for men. The figures also indicated that those with college degrees read the most, and people aged 50 and up read more than those who are younger.
  • The Bible and religious works were read by two-thirds in the survey, more than all other categories.
  • Popular fiction, histories, biographies and mysteries were all cited by about half, while one in five read romance novels.
  • More women than men read every major category of books except for history and biography. Industry experts said that confirms their observation that men tend to prefer nonfiction.
As a lifelong lover of books, it's easy for me to become prideful about my passion for books, how many I've read and how many I look forward to reading. I'm on pace to read something like 30 books this year, in addition to my regular Bible reading, well above the average.

As a lover of books, it's easy for me to look down on people who don't read as shallow people who prefer watching reruns of Seinfeld or some banal teen comedy to reading a book about the exploration of Lewis and Clark, or a novel that deals with race, politics and religion, or a study on the holiness of God, or the mysterious and beautiful truth of the gift of Jesus' death on the Cross, or the role of men and women with the church and the home. I can think of myself as better than others because I read lots of books, especially books that increase my knowledge of who God is and what He has done through the work of His Son Jesus.

Sometimes, it's this same pride that wells up in me when people look at my bookshelves and tell me how many books I have. Sometimes, it's this same pride that motivates me to religiously update my goodreads page. Sometimes, it's this same pride that causes me to think it's more important to own a book or read a book than it is to learn something from that book.

When I read this poll, my first reaction was surprise, and then it moved to pride. But as I reflect on my life, I realize that it's only by God's grace that I love books, that I have the education I do, that I live in a culture that sets aside resources (little though they be!) to establish and maintain libraries, that I was raised in a family that encouraged me to read books.

While I am firmly convinced that people should read more and better books than they do, I am just as firmly convinced that I am as needy for the grace of God in my life as a man who can't read a word.

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