Internet Not Responsible for Rise in Reading, Says Luddite

Reading is up! But don't dream of crediting the Internet for that phenomenon. Dana Gioia, the Bush-appointed chair of the National Endowment of the Arts, would sooner give himself a papercut.

A new study finds that more than 50 percent of American adults read a work of fiction in the past year. The survey's questions did not specify where they read it, even though common sense tells us that with Internet access now commonplace, some of that reading must be happening online. Gioia, a 58-year-old poet, credits librarians instead:

Mr. Gioia said that Internet reading was included in the 2008 data, although the phrasing of the central question had not changed since 1982. But he said he did not think that more reading online was the primary reason for the increase in literary reading rates overall.

Instead he attributed the increase in literary reading to community-based programs like the “Big Read,” Oprah Winfrey’s book club, the huge popularity of book series like “Harry Potter” and Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight,” as well as the individual efforts of teachers, librarians, parents and civic leaders to create “a buzz around literature that’s getting people to read more in whatever medium.”

Gioia's been downplaying the role of the Internet in promoting reading for years, even as far-sighted educators — even librarians! — have been incorporating it into their lesson plans. And the Internet has restored reading and writing (if not fancy poetry) as a normal everyday activity for millions. There's some good news for them, and others who dare to dream that the heavily textual medium of the Internet might actually promote literacy: Gioia is resigning his post later this month.