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Reading Survey

May 6, 1946

But even with every favorable ground condition it takes me about twenty minutes to get through a single strip of lil abner if the radio is on. And yet I know there are some people, particularly young teenagers, who can do it. I’ve seen my little sister biting at the telephone engaged in a marathon non stop conversation with her friend Dolores, whom she hadn’t seen since they embraced tenderly at our front door twenty minutes before, with the radio bleeding heavy romance and an animated discourse going on in the kitchen and she’d be doing her algebra homework with her unoccupied hand and without ever missing a beat . . . could tell you every grim nuance of the radio drama and two hours later when she would finally say a reluctant good night to Dolores she’d walk back into the kitchen and say “Mother, did I hear you say we’re not going to Aunt Liz’s this weekend?” She found it no trick at all to follow the conversation in the kitchen, chatter with Dolores and listen to the radio at the same time . . . of course I never knew about the algebra. This ability to split the seams of concentration is an extraordinary thing. One of the amazements of living in New York, which I did for a while at the end of the war, was the first shock of seeing people read . . . not just newspapers but books while standing on a crowded subway platform with thunderous roar on all sides and a circus sideshow of human activity in all directions. The pay off is to see them riding up one of those subway escalators in the peak traffic of the morning rush. I’ve clocked that moving stairway. It takes exactly 43 seconds to get to the top at the Madison Avenue Station and I’ve seen people reading books on them. Out-of-towners who aren’t used to the swift and narrow escalators won’t venture on them without a tight rope walker’s bamboo and a neatly fitting parachute. But New Yorkers read books on them. They count on that extra 43 seconds of reading every morning.

To get back to the book manufacturer’s survey. It was found that 14% of the readers are persuaded to buy a book by some kind of review or advertisement. 52% buy books ranging in price from one dollar to three dollars; 12% pay more than three dollars; 13% stick to purchases of 25 cents or less. More reading is done in the far west than in the middle west and south. And here’s how we spend our leisure time. 59% of it is devoted to listening to the radio and television; 21% to reading newspapers; 13% to magazines; 11% to movies and 8% to reading books. Trouble is that adds up to a flat one hundred and leaves no time for just staring out the window.