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Thu, Nov 27, 2014

LOGUE: Value of reading lost along the way

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By now, we all know Johnny can’t read. Apparently, other people can, though, because the president of Central Connecticut State University has compiled his yearly ranking of America’s most literate cities.

Jack Miller measures six key indicators: booksellers, educational attainment, Internet resources, library resources, newspaper circulation and periodical publishing resources.

Isn’t it wonderful that the ability to read a newspaper still counts for something?

I still believe in newspapers. Of course, I write for a newspaper.

However, it seems the definition of literacy is changing in the post-analog era.

The amount of money Americans spend on printed reading material has gone down more than 30 percent from 2000 to 2012.

Average newspaper circulation has declined more than 37 percent since 2003 in the 75 cities Miller studied. Library use in those cities has hit a plateau.

The digital world is not the scapegoat. Even when e-reading is thrown into the analysis, reading is still down 22 percent.

Meanwhile, our spending on entertainment that does not require the ability to read has gone up 25 percent since 2000.

We spend eight-and-a-half times more on audio-visual equipment than we do on reading.

That’s twice as high as the figure for 2000.

The Book-of-the-Month Club is no longer a middle-class cliché. It isn’t even on most folks’ radar screen.

According to the 2013 Statistical Abstract of the United States, only 5.7 million Americans belong to book clubs. By comparison 10.6 million belong to a fantasy sports league.

Running parallel to all this anti-intellectualism, if not fueling it, is the decline in Americans with college educations.

Last year, only 30.3 percent of the population of the least literate cities on Miller’s list had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Now we move to the actual survey results beginning from the bottom up.

The 10 least literate cities in America are: Long Beach, Calif.; Mesa, Ariz.; Aurora, Col.; Fresno, Calif.; San Antonio, Texas; Anaheim, Calif.; El Paso, Calif.; Stockton, Calif.; Corpus Christi, Texas; and, bringing up the rear, Bakersfield, Calif.

You may notice that none of those cities is in the southeastern U.S. Happily, that’s a stereotype buster for us.

Nashville crept up a notch from 27th in 2011 to 26th. Memphis is hanging in there, but it slipped from 63 in 2011 to 66 in 2012.

The top 10 cities, from 10 up to one, are: Portland, Ore.; St. Louis, Mo.; Atlanta, Ga.; Boston, Mass.; St. Paul, Minn.; Denver, Col.; Pittsburgh, Penn.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Seattle, Wash.; and, topping the list, Washington, D.C.

It should come as no surprise that the nation’s capital is the most literate city in the country.

It’s a company town with a great many white-collar jobs.

What should come as a shock to most of us is that a nation that used to love to read doesn’t value it anymore, either as a pleasure or a necessity.

Whether you read this column online or in your hands, thank you. Please keep reading.
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