Saturday, July 28, 2007

Rich People Buy Hardback Books: Do They Read Them?

Rich people read hard back books Arnold Kling asserts. He bases it on the correlation between hard back book ownership and wealthy zip codes. Do rich people read more? I say yes. Ann Althouse says no. She has a list of reasons here.

We're talking correlation, not causation. It's not like the research says that the books make people smarter and richer, only that richer people have lots of hardback books. I think that they read at least some of them. Ann's skepticism seems misplaced. Although, Harold Bloom thinks business execs don't read enough so maybe she's right.

What I don't buy is that people of moderate means are borrowing books from the library and reading the classics and doing more heavy reading that their wealthy counterparts. Everyone is reading the best-seller list--that's what makes the best sellers. I was alarmed to find the local library selling classic works because no one was checking them out. My daughter has Steinbeck's book Red Pony right now (she went with the hubby to the library and when I asked him "are there any happy Steinbeck books?"--none that I'm are of, but I digress) and it's very old and gently used. My point is that the kinds of books people check out of the library are probably the exact same kind of books they buy at the store. Likewise, what a person of moderate means buys at the store probably reflects what he borrows from the library.

Bill Gates is known for being surrounded by piles of books and has a world map in his garage so he can always have new information to learn. Rich? Check. Hardback books? Check. Smart? Check. Anecdotal and he could be a big fat faker? Maybe.

Here's my defense of rich people reading:

  1. Specialties that require the rich person to stay up on the latest in his/her industry. If they're in business they can cheat by subscribing to something like this. But that's still better than not reading. And I'm guessing that once a person reads the summary and likes it, the person of means might go out and buy the hardback and read the whole thing.
  2. Book clubs. People who live in rich zip codes belong to them. Sure, most of the ladies (and some gentlemen) spend most of the time gossiping and drinking Chardonnay, but they buy the hardback and one or two actually read the book and the others ostensibly absorb some knowledge.
  3. Self-betterment vs. survival. It is arguably worthless to read self-help books when the extra time could be spent working an extra job. So the best sellers are self-help books. Sure they are. Why so snarly, Ann? People want to make their lives better. Some people spend good money to read self-help books and don't do much with the knowledge. Others actually use a hint here or there and live longer, get richer and stay happier by following a recommendation. One of my favorite books in the world is self-help in nature. In fact, I have a couple favorites (see below).

Most Americans don't read much anyway, or go to bookstores, it seems:
Only 32% of the U.S. population has ever been in a bookstore.

42% of U.S. college graduates never read another book.

58% of the U.S. adult population never reads another book after high school.

70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
81% of the U.S. population feels "they have a book inside them."
But I'm guessing the ones that do read or go to a bookstore, can afford to buy books in the first place. I also feel safe in betting that those who might actually make the effort to go to a bookstore or hit Amazon, might actually be one of the few who read, too.

No comments: