You Are What You Read
By LEAH PRICE, Published: December 23, 2007
In 1605, Francis Bacon observed that “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Today, as we supersize our burgers and abridge our books, reading and eating continue to provoke symmetrical anxieties. Surveys now diagnose too little of one, too much of the other; regression analysis correlates calorie surplus and book deficiency with drug use, divorce and teen pregnancy.
Last month, the National Endowment for the Arts lengthened that list. “To Read or Not to Read,” its 2007 report on American reading habits, identifies who reads as the best predictor of who exercises, plays sports, volunteers, votes and stays out of jail. These data, the study goes on to suggest, refute “assumptions that readers are passive, isolated or self-absorbed.” So what’s the X factor that will make you not just civic-minded and muscular, but also friendlier, outdoorsier and less wrapped up in your thin, law-abiding self? The N.E.A. refuses to speculate, acknowledging only that “strictly understood, the data in this report do not necessarily show cause and effect.” The obvious explanation is tucked away in a “technical note” whose fine print acknowledges that “no attempt has been made to ... delve into racial, ethnic or income traits of voluntary readers.”