Skip to main content
more options
The Reading Project

Reading has changed in America

Carolyn "Biddy" Martin

Provost Martin

According to a recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the amount of reading done for pleasure is down in this country, especially reading of literature such as fiction, poetry and drama. It is happening across all age groups, all genders and races, regardless of income, education, or region. Perhaps most disturbing, the steepest decline has come among young adults, ages 18 to 24, over the past two decades.

When we started the New Student Reading Project in 2001, we didn't realize that the concept would prove to be so prescient. What started as a way for new members of the Cornell community to share and discuss a common reading experience, must now look toward reinforcing the greater importance and benefits of reading, and the personal relationships we can have with great writing.

We read so much every day. We are surrounded by text, and it has become a primary tool of communication whether in email, instant messaging, or the news crawls at the bottom of a TV screen. We've even adapted the voice technology of the cell phone to send text to each other. And yet with all this reading that we do from hour to hour, why do national trends seem to point to a decline in reading for pleasure?

One answer might be that we cannot-and must not-read literature the same way we read email. As technology continues to provide us with ever-faster ways of communicating with text, the message has become faster, shorter, leaner, and nearly subsumed of all art. It is written quickly to be read quickly, then processed, and discarded, forgotten.

But literature stays with you. When we pick up a great book, we are entering into a new world that has been crafted and expressed in a very personal way. It is a one-on-one process that is never experienced exactly the same way by any two people, and yet the best writing can affect and move each of us in very similar ways.

Reading is the best thing we can do, for ourselves and each other. Not only does it enrich our lives, but it can enrich the world around us. As the NEA survey also indicates, people who read for pleasure are many more times more likely than those who don't to visit museums and attend concerts, and almost three times as likely to perform volunteer and charity work. Readers are active participants in the world around them, and that is the best kind of person to be.

This website is your portal to the New Student Reading Project's 2007 selection, The Pickup, as well as all the activities and details of the events surrounding our reading of this novel. Please use this site to explore some of the activities going on throughout Cornell and surrounding communities. I encourage you to take part in as much as you can, and broaden your understanding of what Nadine Gordimer's writing can mean in our lives today.

Carolyn (Biddy) Martin, Provost