People of the Books

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryWhat country’s nationals read more books per capita a year? According to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the answer is Iceland. An individual Icelander reads more books per capita than anyone else. The country with the second largest number of book readers is Great Britain followed by Finland, North Korea and South Korea (a tie), and Canada. These five countries taken together have more avid book readers than most of the rest of the world combined. That’s really something. Alas, this cannot be said of the United States. True, this country is a nation where there are many people who love to read books, but on the whole we are not a nation of avid book lovers. One fact that is interesting; the United States is number two as being the country that publishes the most book titles in the world (second only to Great Britain, which is number one). However, this does not add up to a thoroughly reading conscious public.

I by no means discount the number of Americans who love to read and go to bookstores to buy books and fill up their libraries. Yet sadly we are not as much a reading public as we should be. This is one of the reasons I suspect helped to contribute to the demise of the Borders Bookstore chain. One other sad reality about so many Americans not being book lovers is how little we know about our own history. When I go into a bookstore, I cannot but help see thousands of books on history and on American history in particular. I have equally seen books on the present Afghanistan War and the recently concluded Iraq War. The reason I bring these points up is how poorly American-born U.S. citizens do on a U.S. citizenship test. I learned from my wife that South Koreans know the basics of their own history backwards and forwards. The same is true with most people from what European countries I have met. But Americans seem to be a sad disappointment. So many of our students lack the basics of knowledge about our country’s history. In fact, only 12 percent of all graduating high school students are proficient in U.S. history. Only 44 percent of all Americans know the U.S. Bill of Rights. Even though thousands of American soldiers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, only 37 percent of all Americans know where Iraq is, and only 12 percent of all Americans know where Afghanistan is located.

And all of this because many Americans do not read much in the way of books. I am by no means an expert on a whole lot of subjects, but not knowing the history, culture and system of government of the country we are born and raised in is truly pathetic. Just as equally sad is the fact that only 64 percent of all Americans could pass a U.S. citizenship test. By comparison, those immigrants who come to the United States and apply for U.S. citizenship do far better. The rate of those immigrants who pass a U.S. citizenship test (and remember, the test is conducted in English only) is 92 percent. I find it ironic that a nation and people like the United States—blessed with so many resources, a highly educated people, and a reasonably working form of government—can be woefully so derelict on knowing its own history, culture, arts, and the system of government that runs this country. This is what happens when we do not read much.

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