Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
Forum 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 

Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 13:44 GMT
Are we too busy to read?

Scotland is home to the nation's biggest bookworms, according to a survey out on Wednesday to mark World Book Day.

The average Briton spends around 4.6 hours a week reading for pleasure, but the Scots top that figure by spending around 5.8 hours a week buried in a book, the survey says.

Many argue that reading has become a dying art. Most people would rather flop in front of the TV rather than settle down with a good book.

Are people just too busy to read in today's hectic environment? Do you prefer reading to watching TV? What can be done to improve reading habits?

HAVE YOUR SAY

I think everyone in this country is becoming a lot more lazy

Phil Nash, England
I think everyone in this country is becoming a lot more lazy. The lack of reading is blamed on work pressures and such like, but it's clear the real reason is that we are becoming a nation of couch potatoes who use the TV as our main source of information, simply because it's easy to sit there without actually having to concentrate a great deal on anything.
Phil Nash, England

I think the problem is really our education system which limits children's reading to a very narrow set of books which children must read in order to tick off certain targets and not always for their enjoyment. Children should be encouraged to follow whatever interests them will therefore get more out of; be that a classic, best seller, newspaper, comic or DIY manual! Every source of information is valuable. I fear that children have so much homework that often they have very little free time to be able to indulge in books they enjoy. It certainly took me two years to enjoy reading again after passing my English GCSE. I had spent two years studying three texts to death, just think how many books I could have read in that two year period!
Amy, London, England

As a parent I am becoming increasingly concerned that passive actions, such as watching TV, is replacing family life, reading and other interactive activities. The majority of TV in the UK is little more than inane garbage - take a look at the schedules for last Saturday night - the Generation Game - a game show 20 years past it's sell by date. Whilst on the other main channel, what do we have? Blind Date - a programme which reduces human relationships down to the most basic level. I have actively encouraged the children (aged 13 and 8) to be selective in what they watch, read books, play games and for us to spend quality time together as a family instead of us simply slumping in front of the TV all night.
Mark Newbury - Birch, UK

Let me put it this way. Years ago, some said that the advent of television will be the death of radio, but radio is still here and is serving a purpose. So I guess, television and books or reading for that matter can co-exist. Personally, I prefer reading at my own pace and my own time than becoming hostage by television (with all the mediocre shows and the commercials). Imagination is much more powerful than the visuals television provides.
Alona, Philippines


In a world dominated by turbo-capitalism and its greedy ideology, reading seems to have become a luxury

Dimitris Tsarouhas, Sheffield, England
Too busy to read? A good joke! I certainly believe that in a world dominated by turbo-capitalism and its greedy ideology, reading seems to have become a luxury. Still, this cannot, better said, it should be not an easy excuse for any of us. Many people suffer from illiteracy and haven't got access to books, papers etc. We in the privileged West should be aware of that!
Dimitris Tsarouhas, Sheffield, England

Reading is exciting, but the 90's culture has, unfortunately, set the habit of reading as an "old-fashioned" thing. Schools and teachers should show the students that reading is not just something you must do to pass the tests, but something that will bring you happiness and knowledge.
Filipe Barini, Brazil

Reading is tops! I read avidly anything I can get my hands on. I find that most of my friends read lots as well. I use a library on a regular basis for all my reading books but find it worrying that in a time we are trying to encourage children to read and explore books more public libraries are cutting back on their opening hours making it difficult for children to use a library after school except for on one day. Surely we need libraries to be extending their hours making it easier and more accessible for everyone.
Fran, Manchester, England

A lot of children and teens no longer read a lot as they used to. I am 14 years old and always surprised when other kids see me reading whether its at the bus stop or at lunch. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked "Why are you reading that stuff. I only read when I have too".
Jane, USA

I love both! I have been reading for as long as I can remember and it is as much a part of my life as breathing. I get through about 1200 pages a month, and would happily read all day long given the opportunity. I'd even read a dictionary were that to be the only item to hand in the dentist's waiting room. The biggest impact on my reading time has been starting a family - the drain on our time and resources has been immense. However, watching a good documentary, drama, or movie with a home cinema sound system is equally rewarding in a different way.
D Rothwell, Berks UK

I have had this discussion many times with my partner. I read extensively, because I commute, and therefore have time to read on the train. He watches more television that I thought possible. Both of us have degrees, and frankly, there's no real difference in our level of ability, and his general knowledge is far superior to mine, because he watches a lot of documentaries. I find my attention span cannot cope with television, whereas I can read books endlessly. And anyway, what better way to defy the watershed than to read - nobody ever complains if you read erotic literature on commuter trains, whereas I am certain that if you showed the same on television, they would be on extremely late at night.
Lizz, UK

I used to read 4 - 5 hours a day till I became an Internet addict. Now I have access to the Internet the whole day and everything I need I get on the Net and consequently the computer takes much of my reading time. Reading is one of the pleasurable activities and somehow all my friends are voracious readers. I have been a member of various book clubs and literary associations. These days the younger generation doesn't give importance to reading and it is because most of them are either couch potatoes or Net addicts. I believe in the statement: 'Reading maketh a full man' (Francis Bacon).
Albert P'Rayan, India/Rwanda

Some people say that reading is hard. Jim Bell seems to say that dyslexics have a problem and that's an excuse. I hate that. As a dyslexic my self I read endlessly. TV is boring and doesn't involve any use of a brain. Reading has improved my spelling more then any thing else. TV doesn't do this. I have often had this very same argument with my friends. Though we all come home from work and flop down in front of the TV from time to time, we also accept the mindless nature of its entertainment value. Reading is simply an active pastime where as watching TV is passive. TV - The opiate of the masses.
Peter, UK

Reading hasn't started to die out. I think since the invention of computers and the Internet, people are reading and writing more for pleasure these days. You could argue that reading from a screen is different from reading a book, but only a selected few people ever get to publish books. The Internet has millions and millions of people publishing their own stories, ideas and opinions. Books will always have their place and people will still read them, but books will more and more have to share their place with new technology. Traditionalists will one day have to accept this.
Andy S, England

I take offence at Jim Bell's comments about TV just being an excuse for being dumb and have only a basic education. I'm sure that people who watch TV come from all walks of life and have a range of intelligence. I enjoy reading, but one of my friends (who incidentally has a Master's degree) rarely reads and would rather watch TV over reading a book.
Dan W, UK


We should not force our opinions on them or prejudge them for their choice of hobbies

Mark Davies, UK
I find the comment stating that people who watch TV are unemployed or dumb ridiculous and insulting. I am neither, I am a hardworking management consultant with a Masters degree in Computer Science. I love to read but after a hard day writing and reading involved and frequently boring documents I am too exhausted to do much except flop down in front of the TV. It doesn't require any effort or thought and so can be very relaxing. When I am less tired and have the free time I prefer to read. Some people don't enjoy reading though and we should not force our opinions on them or prejudge them for their choice of hobbies.
Mark Davies, UK

I think it's ludicrous and insulting to suggest that people who do not choose to read are lacking in intelligence or employment! I personally love reading as well as watching television and listening to the radio. However I wouldn't expect anyone to criticise me for not wanting to wind down with a game on the sega mega drive. Relaxation is all about choice and enjoyment, there's no place for snobbery here.
Rebecca Southwell, UK

To compare books to television is like comparing one religion against another. They are both amazing ways for people to expand their mind and become more aware of the world surrounding them. Books are a brilliant way of taking in information whilst relaxing - but without TV no one would know what was going on in the world.

My favourite pastime is having a long soak in the bath with a good book and a glass of wine, before going to bed and watching Brookside, so which category do I fall into? By the way on average I read two to three novels a month - ranging from best-seller to classics.
Menna, Wales

In response to the person who says that there are not enough "good" books/authors to read, I would suggest that you have a restricted view of the bookshelves. For whenever I walk into a library or enter a bookshop I experience exactly the opposite. I never fail to be overwhelmed by the vast and ever-increasing numbers of novels that have been and continue to be written, and other, i.e. reference/travel books published. And while they might not all contain "quality" stories/material, (which definition is subjective anyhow - what appeals to one person will not necessarily appeal to all - and surely each choice can be informed and/or guided by the last, or by reviews etc.), I am filled with frustration and regret knowing that no matter how long I live or how much time I spend reading, I'll be unable to read the hundreds of books available, which I long to read.
Terry, England

I was too busy going to the pub every evening when I lived in the UK but now that I'm in New York, I've developed a book-a-day habit (drinking is frowned upon here).
Ben Martin, USA

Seen the film, watched the TV programme? Then pick up the book and read some more! This is an ideal way to start exploring the bookshelves. Everything from Pride and Prejudice to Inspector Dalziel! Don't forget to try the children's section too. The Secret Garden, The Little House on the Prairie, the magic of the Narnia chronicles; the list is endless. But my thanks really should go to an English teacher who provided the class with a list of classic authors and titles. Her instructions; to keep somewhere safe until needed and dip into for inspiration. I wonder how many people still have that list tucked away somewhere safe nearly 30 years on? Thank you Miss A. Happy reading everyone!
Jane Kilbride, UK


I don't see why one should be incompatible with the other.

Ken Hargraves, England
I like to read, and also to write fiction. I like to play computer games and I like to watch TV and read comics. I find all of these things intellectually stimulating and keeps my mind active. To anyone who doesn't have the time to read I would advise them to make time as they are missing out on a wonderful experience. I would say the same to anyone who refuses to watch films or play computer games. They are all fun and do my mind good. The Lord of the Rings is the reason I am such a voracious reader and I can't wait to see the film adaptation. I am reading the book again in preparation. I don't see why one should be incompatible with the other.
Ken Hargraves, England

I agree with some of the comments made earlier - it is a question of priorities. I do read, albeit irregularly, but it tends to be something that I do when I really have nothing else to do, instead of something that I make time for. It is a pitiful excuse for not doing something that I truly do enjoy, especially with books being one of the cheaper forms of entertainment available. Perhaps it is my reliance on films (another of my favourite pastimes) that has led me to keep reading as such a low priority task. I do, however, intend to change and, recently, I decided that there were a number of books I really should read, and I intend to read them all.
Dave Adamson, United Kingdom

I think there is a place in our modern world for all forms of media, be it books, internet or T.V. The accusations against T.V usually stem from garbage programming but it should be remembered that not all internet sites are credible nor are all books of the highest order. Personally I find some classic books unbearable, soap operas just awful and MTV style web sites too much. On the other hand I love history books, always watch sport and regularly buy books on the web. My conclusion is that there is a wealth of media out there that we can expose ourselves to but ultimately it's down to personal choice which formats and which genres and styles we prefer.
Carsten Doig, UK

I live in Tahiti and I must say reading is not one of the Tahitians' favourite pastimes. Several reasons account for this extreme lack of interest in the written word. First, Polynesia's ancestral culture was based only on oral tradition. Second, with the arrival around 1840 of the French educational system which banned any use of the vernacular language, that is the Tahitian language and imposed on the natives the use of French - has irreversibly created an immense cultural gap between the imported word, of western tradition and the difficult survival of Maori traditions.

In a society where all TV programs are imported from French TV networks, little room is left for reading to a population who's fallen victim of the diffusion of values alien to their cultural bearings. As for me, I find it quite difficult to lay hand on a good book, that's why I prefer plunging myself back into old English classics which I always find rewarding
B, French Polynesia

It's not a matter of being too busy. People choose how to use their time. "I don't have the time" means "I think something else is more important." I gave up on television in the US long ago. Here in Colorado the winter weather is bad enough to encourage lots of reading.
Don, USA

I think one of the reasons that I love reading so much is its flexibility. You can choose what you want to read and when. You can pick a book up anywhere, at any time, and carry on from where you left off the last time. Reading can offer pure escapism or useful information, and always expands the reader's experience, both of language and of life. Reading can be combined with other pleasures - I often read while listening to music, and it's particularly nice to be able to take a book outside and read in the sun (when it's out).
Amanda, UK

I never used to read much until I moved to London. With the tube in the state that it is, reading is a great way to use the time to get to work constructively. I have read more books in the previous eight months than the last five years!
Robin Massart, UK


You don't find time to read, you make time

Barbara Beall, Maryland, USA
You don't find time to read, you make time. It's all about how you prioritize. Life is only as hectic as you let it get. I am proud to be a reader, especially an American one, since we seem to be a dying breed. Reading allows you to escape the world for awhile, helps to sharpen spelling and grammar skills and lets you use your imagination. (Not to mention the fact that you might actually learn something!) My colleagues and I have started a book club. It's a wonderful chance to share our love of reading with each other. We enjoy dinner and a lively discussion, since we're all of different ages, races, religions, etc. We read everything from Pulitzer prize winners to best-selling trash. I find it a shame that most people view literature through Hollywood's eyes. They don't have time to read the book, but will wait in line for hours to get tickets to the movie.
Barbara Beall, Maryland, USA

I wholeheartedly agree with Peter Smith, many comments here seem to suggest that book reading somehow elevates them above everyone else, surely what you do with your personal time is your own choice and no one has the right to judge it.
Thomas Cooper, UK

I used to read 4 or 5 hours a day till I became an internet addict. Now I have access to the internet the whole day and everything I need I get on the net and consequently the computer takes much of my reading time. Reading is one of the pleasurable activities and somehow all my friends are voracious readers. I have been a member of various book clubs and literary associations. These days the younger generation doesn't give importance to reading and it is because most of them are either couch potatoes or net addicts. I believe in the statement: 'Reading maketh a full man' (Francis Bacon). i
Albert P'Rayan, India/Rwanda

Is this another one of those really poor surveys? I read loads, I wouldn't like to add up the hours. Why do we keep getting these surveys that makes our country look so poor. We certainly are not that bad. All we ever hear about is how bad Britain or England is, never how good we are at anything, maybe that is saying something I suppose, surely we are good at something useful.
Tom O'D, England

Those who want to read will find the time to do it. Newspapers and magazines are important too. You don't have to read the latest high brow novel. In an ideal world, books would be one ( in my opinion - irreplaceable) medium alongside TV and internet. In our house we have no TV but we do use the internet , radio and lots of newspapers. Like Eileen from UK, we never get bored.
W Carlson, UK

I think that too much nostalgia is placed around the format of the book to the point that it is often believed that everything written in a book is both wholesome and true to the detriment of other forms of entertainment. It should be recognised that all forms of media and communication, for entertainment, can be positively stimulating. Films and video "games" are very often discredited by people who favour books. Shame because the video "game" can be every bit as stimulating as a book while exercising additional intellect in the process. The word game can be misleading.
Mark Kent, UK


I am as addicted to books as some people are to alcohol or drugs

Meg, USA
I was reading by age 4, and I would read all day if I could. I read while watching TV, I read during my lunch. I stayed up all night reading when the 4th Harry Potter book came out. I am as addicted to books as some people are to alcohol or drugs. There is something comforting in the smell of a book and the feel of the pages. Reading is a major part of my life - if only they would pay me for it...
Meg, USA

Reading is active. Watching TV is passive. Reading gives and watching TV takes. While you are rewarded for making an effort, you always end up paying for your laziness. That is all there is to it.
Alice, UK

Finding the time in modern life to curl up with a book is difficult but is still one of the greatest pleasures. Despite all the information available online I think there is no way of absorbing information quite like reading - pure escapism.
Barry, UK


There are books to suit everyone, but what it boils down to is laziness. Going to the library is too much effort - it's easier to watch TV

Kev, UK
Reading is the ultimate way to chill out during a hectic week, and to unwind at the end of the week. Everyone has access to books - public libraries are free to use. There are books to suit everyone, but what it boils down to is laziness. Going to the library is too much effort - it's easier to watch TV, even if there's nothing of interest on. A lazy body breeds a lazy mind.
Kev, UK

I have recently changed job and can now commute to work by bus instead of car. What a godsend! Now I have at least an hour a day when I can do nothing but read - three books this week already and counting!
Gillian White, Scotland

As we left our villages to work in the cities during the Industrial Revolution, the traditional storytellers lost their audiences in the villages. It seemed as if storytelling would die out completely. The invention of radio and later television made it possible for stories to be told again to reached a large group more easily. Radio and television are just a form of storytellers, as are books. To say that one is better than the other is shortsighted. As long as there is a mind to feed, books, television, internet etc can feed it.
Jose Fernandez, Netherlands

I love reading. It has always been one of my passions and I cannot think of a better way to educate yourself. It helps enormously with spelling and punctuation not to mention correct grammar (no doubt you'll now point out all my mistakes!!). Best of all it is cheap. If you can't afford to buy then go and join a library. When the pressure is on and you're feeling a bit down what better way to forgot everything and bury yourself in some fantasy world.
Lee, UK


Working does take its toll on reading time

Jo Mitchell, UK
I love to read, but it's true that I read less now than before I went to university. Working does take its toll on reading time, and I usually only read in bed these days. However that is by my own choice - I enjoy films, so will often watch one during the evening instead. I think it all comes down to what things you enjoy doing and how much time you are prepared to spend doing each of those things.
Jo Mitchell, UK

As an editor, I read constantly. But I must object to those who use reading as a form of snobbery. Life is too short to spend it doing things that bore you: if some people prefer television and film to books, so be it.
Peter Smith, UK

Our modern age is marked by one thing; noise. Television, radio, pop music and the like all produce a cacophony of ephemeral nonsense that drowns out all thought, reflection and knowledge. Reading, on the other hand, is an activity that is both the most personal and social activity that one can have. Sitting with a book one is free to touch the minds of those who have lived centuries before us and whose thoughts will live long after we are dead.
David Szondy, USA (British)


It is nothing more than a question of priorities

John B, UK
It is nothing more than a question of priorities. Just like a certain faction drinks and smokes and then complains they can't afford to eat properly, another faction spends hours at the pub or in front of the TV (usually watching fairly mindless drivel) and then complains that reading takes too long. If you want to read make the time for it. If you don't then just say so and don't make excuses. Personally I like to read before going to sleep. I find books like "Options Markets - pricing and hedging" a great cure for insomnia!
John B, UK

Reading may not be everyone's desired method of relaxation, and that needs to be respected without cries of pompous indignation. However, there is something to be said for reading in improving writing skills and conveying ideas. How many times have we come across badly written memos, correspondence and other documents where the syntax, grammar and general arrangement of thoughts leaves a lot to be desired. As communication is the key to life, perhaps the occasional book (any book) might help ... just a thought!
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

Watching TV and reading are both stimulating and useful, but in different ways. Neither one should be judged against the other as it's not comparing like with like.
Owen, UK

Fred Bailey take note! I would love to read more, but as my working day starts at 8.00am, and I generally don't get home before 10.00pm it leaves very little time to do the essential things in life, never mind read. The only reading time I get is snatched on the occasional tube journey when there's space to hold a book.
Jill, UK

I read on my way to and from work and get through about two books a week and I am finding it increasingly difficult to find new books that are any good.
I wouldn't be surprised if people are reading less simply because like me they are fed up with spending money on trying new authors who turn out to be useless.
Crozby, UK


Reading may stretch one's imagination, but then so does daydreaming!

Richard G, UK
Why do people who read lots always assume superiority over those who don't? Reading may stretch one's imagination, but then so does daydreaming! I could gain just as much from having an intellectually stimulating conversation with friends as I could from a book - and, as a sociable creature, quite often that's what I'd rather do! The telly doesn't even come in to it - it provides a different entertainment medium altogether.
Richard G, UK

My daughters are 10 and 12 watched the BBC Pride and prejudice - demanded the book and loved both - and the BBC version was in the house because Jane Austen is one of my favourite authors - so we have reading stimulating tv watching stimulating reading - full circle?
Hanneke, Netherlands

In reply to Jim Bell's comment. I find it very patronising and stereotypical for you to label people who watch TV as unemployed or dumb. Am I to assume that you regard all unemployed people as lazy and unsavoury characters who can't think for themselves because they are too dumb.
There are many people who find it difficult to read a book, namely dyslexics. Are we to assume that these people are dumb? Everybody finds pleasure in different pastimes. Listening to the radio and gardening may please some but to others it may seem incredibly boring. No one is any better than anybody else simply because they don't watch TV.
James, UK

Both communications and the media have become fast moving snippet style information and I feel to some extent we have got out of the habit of sitting down and taking in a large volume of information at one sitting.
Gerry, Scotland

Come to London, everybody reads on the tube. Great way to prepare your mind for work in the morning (or maybe just to avoid talking to people!)
Pardeep, England


So reading a Ian M Banks book is a Mind-Expanding experience whilst playing computer games makes you a withdrawn violent psychopath?

Rob Read, UK
So reading a Ian M Banks book is a Mind-Expanding experience whilst playing computer games (say Quake) makes you a withdrawn violent psychopath? High speed problem solving games are known to increase IQs plus when played against or co-op with friends greatly increase social interaction and teamwork. How often do children play games on their own? How often do children read on their own? Face up to it, most games test the imagination, mental faculties and negotiating skills of children much harder than mere books do! Just ask to jump the 'Q' for the console to find out.
Rob Read, UK

I enjoy reading and find that after a stressful day at work a good read helps to relax you. Television these days is all too depressing and does not help at all!
Andrew, England


Reading books can mean having to THINK about things

Simon Feegrade, England
I agree with Fred Bailey. All this talk of how incredibly busy and stressed out we all are is just nonsense. I'm not saying nobody is overworked or overstressed, just that it is blown out of proportion by a hysterical media and people who like to overdramatise their lives. We have always been stressed and busy, we are just more aware of it and more open to discussing it now.
Simon Feegrade, England

Most people who choose TV over reading don't lead hectic lives at all and often aren't really busy. In fact, I believe most of them are either unemployed or have only the very basic education. TV is just an excuse for being dumb.
Jim Bell, UK

If everyone is reading less, it is due to the proliferation of new communication mediums. Unfortunately, most of these require little intellectual involvement. I think I would go slowly insane if I wasn't able to read!
Mark B, UK

People will read if they are offered interesting material - look at the success of the Harry Potter books, Terry Pratchett, Iain M. Banks - they are seriously popular with young people, as are "graphic novels". They are "21st century classics" which grab the imagination in ways that books loved by the literary elite never will. When we get the works of Philip K. Dick being studied for GCSE English, we will have got somewhere...
Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire, UK


TV and reading are two distinctly different things and are not even related

Fred Bailey, UK
Today's environment is not hectic. Marketing gurus and advertisers will have us believe so, as a state of hysteria promotes buying. People are not too busy, most of them don't really do anything apart from work and commuting, yet it's a great excuse for intellectual inertia. TV and reading are two distinctly different things and are not even related. Watching filmed versions of literature is like listening to people tell you about having sex rather than doing it yourself - not terribly exciting and a bit nauseating.
Fred Bailey, UK

Reading is easy if you fit it into your routine. If there is nothing I want to watch on TV I pick up my book rather than watch things I have no real interest in. I also go to bed half an hour earlier than I go to sleep to allow time to read.
Sandra, Scotland

We chucked out our TV 18 years ago. To astounded workmates who ask "but what do you do with yourself?", I reply we spend our evenings reading, listening to the radio or music and, in the summer, gardening. We talk, do handicrafts, in short use both our brains and our hands. Dare I say it - life is not only possible, but much more fun without the dreaded box.
Eileen, UK

In the US I think most people on average read for about 30 seconds a week for pleasure, so I think most Britons are doing quite well. Besides it seems the mentality is (especially here in the US) why read the book when the movie or mini-series will be created.
Emma, USA

Send us your comments:
Name:

Your E-mail Address:


Country:

Comments:

Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
See also:

01 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Scots bookworms top poll
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Links to more Talking Point stories