I realized that in my last post I defined watching TV as “doing nothing” and reading as “doing something.” Knitting also made it into the “doing something” category. This reminded me of the recent report that American reading has fallen by 10%. I initially understood this to mean that those who had read 100 books a year before were now only reading 90. But what it actually meant was that 10% more Americans now fall into the category of people who do not read even one book a year.

Here’s the link:http://www.nea.gov/news/news04/ReadingAtRisk.html

This seemed alarming, not just to me, but to most of the newspapers that reported it. But as I looked into it further and discussed it with others, I began to wonder whether it was really alarming or not. For one thing, the study made a strong distinction between the reading of fiction and of nonfiction. Is The Knowledge Web really less an example of literature than Redneck Riviera? However, upon checking the data more closely, I found that, fiction or nonfiction, fewer than half of the respondents finished even one book in the previous year.

My mother suggested that Americans might be reading more in non-book form — blogs, newspapers, magazines, and whatnot. Only books counted in the study. A colleague pointed out that books read for school or work were not included. Perhaps the phenomenon was not so much that people weren’t reading as that they were working more, and their reading time was spent on assigned things — a loss not of literacy but of leisure. All these quibbles aside, though, let’s bear in mind that we are talking about ZERO books a year. I would think that it would be hard to avoid reading just one book in a year. I mean, you’d be hearing all this stuff about The Da Vinci Code and just pick it up, right? Or there’d be nothing on TV and you’d absentmindedly dip into that book your aunt sent you for your birthday. I mean, how could you avoid it?

The one thing which was not questioned in any discussion was the idea that people ought to read.That reading was better than, say, watching TV — regardless of content. I watch a few specific programs on TV. I also watch a couple of movies on DVD each week. The main difference between watching Monk and reading a few chapters of a detective novel, as far as I can see, is that you can do more complicated knitting while watching TV than you can while reading.

Those who read and knit need not worry that the decline of reading will lead to a decline in the number of knitting books available. There are new knitting books heading our way. Hollywood Knits Style has designs with stories about celebrities who have made or bought them. Doesn’t thrill me, but to each her own. The Yarn Girls (whose first book, bad directions or no, helped my daughter to make her first sweater) are coming out with a book of designs for kids.  The Gift Knitter has patterns for kids and also for dogs. Both Reader’s Digest and Stackpole are bringing out new basic knitting collections. Hot Knits is going to paper and Stitch’n’Bitch has a sequel. The most intriguing of the new hip-knit books, at least on the basis of the little bits of advance information I have, is After Dark, which consists entirely of evening things — beaded halter, shawls, an obi belt, stuff like that. Could make nice gifts for folks who don’t happen to be kids or dogs. Sandra Polley has a book exclusively of teddy bears and gear for them. There are several knit lit books, too, for people who like to read about knitting:  The Knitting Sutra, KnitLit (Too), and For the Love of Knitting. The third in the group is the prettiest, if a coffee table book would fit your holiday gift list. Another gift option might be The Little Box of Scarves, a box full of laminated scarf patterns which might inspire the novice.

None of these upcoming books is on my personal book shopping list. I’m still coveting The Celtic Collection. If you are one of the millions of Americans who has not read a book in the past year, however, why not read a knitting book? There are always lots of pictures.