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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 August 2005, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Can read, won't read books
By Martha Buckley
BBC News

Victoria Beckham
Posh prefers fashion to reading
Victoria Beckham says she has never read a book in her life. It's a common trait - one in four adults say books aren't for them.

"I haven't read a book in my life," the ex-Spice Girl has told a Spanish journalist. "I haven't got enough time. I prefer to listen to music, although I do love fashion magazines."

Posh is not alone in her rejection of books. For every three Britons with their noses in a bestseller, there's one adult in the UK who does not read books at all.

Research by the Office for National Statistics, commissioned by the National Reading Campaign in 2001, found a quarter of adults had not read a book in the previous 12 months. The figure rose to almost half among males aged 16-24.

This is despite soaring book sales - up 19% in the UK in the five years to 2004.

This rejection of books is not connected to literacy - the number of adults with reading difficulties has decreased by two million in the past decade to about five million.

Julia Strong, director of the government-funded National Reading Campaign, says reading habits are formed early.

Harry Potter fans
Yet book sales are booming
"Children copy what they see and if you don't come from a reading home, or haven't been read to as a child, there's a much stronger chance you won't read yourself."

Others may be simply short of time.

"There are so many other claims on people's time. Most people, when they come home from a day's work, do not think, 'Oh, goody, I want to read a book now.' They just want to relax [in front of the TV]."

Nor does she believe nerdy "bookworm" stereotypes put people off reading.

"I think that's just a defence mechanism used by people who are not very good at reading. Teenagers often quit reading for a bit around the age of 14 but that's more to do with the whole growing-up process."

Concentration game

Those who find reading hard work can find that it hampers their enjoyment of books. Like Mrs Beckham, West Sussex builder Dave Rhodes cannot recall ever reading a whole book - even at school.

His preferred reading material is magazines about caravans.

"I read them because that's the thing I'm interested in but I would never consider reading a whole book. My dad used to read newspapers, though I can't remember my mother reading, or either of them ever reading to me.

Having set texts for my O-levels took some of the pleasure out of it
Rob Cox
"My wife reads and my kids read. But I find I can't really take books in. I can read so much but then when I go back to it I've forgotten what I've already read about. I think it's a concentration problem."

Many cite bad experiences with "boring" school books.

Rob Cox, 51, a technical manager for an oil industry environmental association, says as a child, he read two or three books a week: "The Secret Seven and the Famous Five and more serious stuff like Aesop's Fables. But having set texts for my O-levels took some of the pleasure out of it."

He now only reads on holiday, and finds even that a chore. "It's just that it requires a lot of effort - though it potentially gives you more enjoyment."

Missing much?
Not even long hours commuting into London from Berkshire can tempt him into reading.

"I just find that life is better than fiction. I travel a lot, visiting so many places and meeting so many strange and interesting people that I find books a bit pedestrian."

What would people like Posh, Dave and Rob get out of reading? Books open the door to great stories from through the ages, says Ms Strong.

"[Reading] opens doors to creativity and understanding and is vital for self-esteem and fulfilment. And if life is just flicking through magazines, it's a sad reflection of humanity."

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