While visiting a friend on Saturday afternoon, I was shown an article from last Friday's (January 16, 2009) Wall Street Journal, "The Triumph of the Readers : The markets may be down, but fiction is on the rise" / By Ann Patchett, (on line: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123214794600191819.html)
the author of seven books, including her novel most recent novel, Run ( Harper Perennil, 2008)
Patchett gives us the good news, children and adults are reading more fiction. She remembers reading some books as child or student just because they were forbidden. It was a secret pleasure to read Valley of the Dolls. Only after reading it did she find out that it was not recommended because it was badly written not because it was "dirty.". Patchett and others say that reading even poorly written books is better that not reading at all. If someone reads a bad book today, some time in the future they may read excellent literature. If they don't read today, they won't read tomorrow.
One of the hardest assignments students get in high school or even in college is to read a book for the fun of it. When students come to the library and ask for help with this assignment, I know they never thought of reading for pleasure. I try to ask what they are interested in. Sometimes they say a book with lots of pictures because they just don't want to read. Sometimes I get them to say an activity such as sports. Eventually I hand them a book almost as an assignment from me, and they say, "ok" or "thanks." I sometimes hear back after they read the book. Almost all liked the books I handed them. They still need encouragement to believe that reading can be recreational. In my mind, I hope they will come back and choose another book for recreational reading without my help. Recreational reading and reading for academic research both help the reader understand the world. I do assume that the majority of the library patrons who want a book for recreational reading don't even both to ask.
E-books and other electronic research tools are great for academic research. The library extends its reach with the communication tools at our disposal, but tools alone do not make us a nation of critical readers. Printed books replaced handwritten manuscripts because of the cost of production. Printed books allowed more people to enjoy reading. However, a few handwritten works are still produced. Paperbacks cost less than hardcover books, but they did not replace them. Paperbacks just allowed more people to be able to afford books. Electronic books and articles are less expensive to make and distribute than printed books. Print and electronic media will continue to exist because they address different needs.
One important benefit of reading is that it encourages writing. Well written books and articles teach only their content, but also how to communicate. Communication skills are among the most important skills to be able to get along with others.
[Sidebar -- In economics electronic media are "magic goods." That means they are neither consumable nor durable. The cost of the production does not change with the number produced and the inventory is always infinite. Insurance policies are another example of "magic goods."]