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The number of new books published in the United States remained fairly level during the first half of the century but surged upward thereafter.
The neglect of reading in favor of television has been regularly deplored since the advent of telecasting. A prominent academic, warning the nation about the spread of the “literate nonreader,” wrote in 1970, “He reads no more than a book a year, hardcover or paperback, fiction or nonfiction. His medium of choice and greatest exposure for relaxation, entertainment, current events, and cultural uplift is television.” 

But in the previous decade—1960 to 1970—the number of new book titles more than doubled, the ratio of novels to nonfiction works declined, and book sales grew rapidly. Those trends continued, at a somewhat slower pace, in the last three decades of the century. 

In 1935, Middletown (Muncie, Indiana) had no bookstores at all, and the public library was virtually the sole source of books for recreational reading or private study. Fifty years later, in the heyday of network television, Middletown had sixteen retail bookstores and innumerable outlets for paperbacks, but per capita circulation of library books remained about the same. 

In 1997, American consumers spent upwards of $26 billion on purchases of more than 2 billion books. More than a third of these books were hardbound, and only a quarter of them were mass-market paperbacks. The Internet revolution was particularly important in the growth of book sales, with leading the field. 

The habit of reading books was largely a function of education and income: the higher their education and income, the more likely people were to read books. But women read more than men, the young more than the old, the married more than the single, and westerners more than residents of other regions.

Chapter 15 chart 1

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series R 192; SA 1999, table 938. Also see Renee Richards, “Books: Their Place in America: 1900 to 1995” (unpublished manuscript, University of Virginia, 1998), quoting R. R. Bowker, Annual Library and Trade Almanac: 1982, page 385; 1992, page 503; and 1998, page 522. For the quotation on the literate nonreader, see Theodore Peterson, “The Literate Nonreader, the Library, and the Publisher,” in The Future of General Adult Books and Reading in America, ed. Peter S. Jennison and Robert N. Sheridan (Chicago: American Library Association, 1970), pages 90–102.

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