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The National Endowment for the Arts' survey of public participation in the arts is out, and it contains rather disheartening news—or great news, depending on how you look at it.

On the bright side, an impressive 58 percent of U.S. adults read for pleasure—which is to say, read at least one book not required for work or for school—in 2012. On the other hand, 42 percent of adults did not read a single book for pleasure in 2012. That's probably not too much of a surprise, especially given that the poll doesn't differentiate between those who read one or two books and those who consumed, say, 30.

The poll does, however, distinguish between books in general and "literary reading," which includes novels, short stories, poetry, and plays. Turns out just 47 percent of adults read that sort of material, and as the LA Times points out today, that's a hefty decline in the past five years (with poetry attracting a meager 7 percent of literary readers):

Literature overall—from which the NEA excludes nonfiction—has suffered a decline. Adults who read novels, poetry, short fiction and plays have dropped in every age group since 2008. The biggest ground was lost among readers in middle age; 35- to 44-year-olds dropped by nearly 6%; and both 45- to 54-year-olds and 55- to 63-year-olds by 5%.

It probably won't surprise you (especially if you're Jonathan Franzen) to learn that book readers of all stripes are surpassed by those who partake in (shiver) "arts consumption through electronic media":

But cheer up, Franzen. As far as literacy goes, Kindles and iPhones and Twitter and Tumblr are still forms of reading. Right?

At any rate, credit is due to senior citizens (adults 65 and older), who now have a higher rate of literary reading than any other demographic group in America. 

Photo by Donjiy via Shutterstock.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.