How Is It Possible that Close to Half of College Graduates Don’t Read?

23 Sep
“I’m not as big of a reader as you,” my brother said to me over the phone.
Dismissive of his reading habits as he was, my brother is a reader. He was telling me about a book he by a woman he’d heard about on a podcast. Felicia Day‘s You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). This wasn’t a once-in-a-blue-moon event. He’s not a prolific reader by any means, but he loves a good book. When I’d asked him the year before what he wanted for Christmas, he wanted a Malcolm Gladwell book. Back when he lived in Greece, he asked me to bring him books. He always wanted Dr. Pepper, but I couldn’t bring that on the plane.
These days I sent a lot of books to my mother since it’s difficult for her to get books in English where she lives in Greece. She reads them slowly, savoring them. My father, on the other hand, reads like I do: if he likes a book or thinks it’s important, he will sit and read it until he’s done. My sister, too, reads regularly. It’s a family trait. I come from a family of readers. A long line of readers, perhaps. My grandmother always had biographies laying about her home.
Last year a report came out that said that 42% of college students will never read another book after they graduate. Forty-two percent! I don’t know how that’s even humanly possible. I can certainly understand that there is a percentage of college graduates, depending on what they studied, who might not read literary fiction or nonfiction again. I can imagine some might read graphic novels or chick lit or Tom Clancy novels or self-help books, low-brow books.
The fact that close to half of college graduates don’t read books seems impossible to me. It seems like a deliberate, adamant choice not to read. It seems like they’re anti-book. Are they never, not even once, curious about a bestseller? Not even Harry Potter, Twilight, or Fifty Shades of Grey? Do they not feel the least bit embarrassed if they haven’t read classics like The Great Gatsby? Do they feel no shame in not being able to answer what the last book they read was? Or do their friends never mention books? Do these people never step inside bookstores? Do they never read a business book to advance their careers?
I just don’t get it.  

4 Responses to “How Is It Possible that Close to Half of College Graduates Don’t Read?”

  1. david amram September 23, 2015 at 4:04 pm #

    Dear Stephanie:

    I enjoyed your comments on the 42% who haven’t cracked a book since they got their diploma.

    So we have to work on the 58% to get them to continue reading SOMETHING and hope that THEY will gather the lost flock of ex-readers and bring them back into the fold.

    Arthur Miller told me once what a thrill it was to be driving in Moscow and when he pulled up to a red light and look through the window of an adjacent truck, the truck driver was reading TOLSTOY!!!

    This years LCK has TZ Hernandez, a killer writer as the guest scholar.

    i have worked with him and he is ON THE CASE!!!

    In addition to my usual crazed schedule, playing at bars, accompanying readers. poets. townsfolk playing guitars and singing their latest songs, playing with a French Canadian group and local jazz artists and giving an encouraging (I hope) rap to Lowell High School FUTURE READERS AND WRITERS for their annual Jack Kerouac Poetry Contest, there will also be performances of classical chamber music works of mine which have a Kerouac connection.

    Here is what they just sent out.

    Lowell Celebrates Kerouac presents an evening of the classical chamber music of David Amram:

    Saturday Oct. 10th, from 6-8 pm at St. Anne’s Church in Lowell Massachusetts, there will be a concert of composer David Amram’s classical chamber music compositions as part of the weekend’s annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festival.

    Amram, who began collaborating with Jack Kerouac in 1956, a year before “On the Road” made Kerouac a household name, shared
    a mutual interest with Kerouac in the treasures of European classical music, literature , theater and visual arts, and equal admiration for jazz and improvised music which celebrated both the Spontaneous and the Formal.

    In 1957, Amram performed with Kerouac when they presented first public jazz-poetry readings ever done in NYC, and they continued doing a series of concerts together through 1958.

    In 1959, Amram co-wrote the title song for the short film Pull My Daisy, setting the words of Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg to music. He also composed the chamber music/jazz score for the film, accompanying Kerouac’s spontaneous narration, and appeared in the film, at Kerouac’s request, as Mezz McGillicuddy, the deranged french hornist.

    In 1964, Kerouac helped Amram find the texts for his cantata “A Year in our Land”, which included a setting for solo voice, chorus and orchestra of an excerpt from Kerouac’s “The Lonesome Traveler”

    In the years since Kerouac’s death in 1969, Amram has written chamber music and Symphonic compositions honoring their friendship and the spirit of Kerouac’s zest for life and love of the beauty that surrounds us every day when we remember to pay attention.

    All four of the compositions chosen by Amram for this concert in Lowell each have a Kerouac connection, which Amram will share with the audience when introducing each piece at the concert.

    When Judith Bessette, President of Lowell Celebrates recently contacted Amram, he said…..

    “Returning to participate in Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festival for the 21st time, and celebrating my upcoming 85th birthday this November 17th with a special concert of my chamber music compositions in Lowell is the best birthday present any composer could ever receive.Both my family and i would like to thank Cliff Whalen and all the volunteers of LCK who have made this possible. The three musicians and I are looking forward to participating in this special evening.

    It remains a joy to return to this unique festival and to keep alive the spirit of always including new voices in all of the arts,an approach which Jack and I and so many artists of the 1950s shared within our respective communities. We all felt that part of our job was to
    foster creativity in others.

    Coming to Lowell Celebrates Kerouac in 2015 and collaborating with a new generation of jazz and improvising musicians, songwriters, poets,and classically trained musicians was what Jack and I did together a half a century ago. This concert is a way of saying thank you to all the gifted artists who were our elders and encouraged us to dare to continue on the paths we had chosen, and always strive for excellence rather than for overnight success.

    While much of my time at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac in previous years has been spent in supporting others as an accompanist, I also participated in some memorable classical concerts of my symphonic music which had a Kerouac connection, thanks to Kay Roberts of U.Mass Lowell who conducted her New England Chamber Orchestra in some memorable performances.

    For this special concert at St Ann’s, three world class classical performers will play chamber music compositions of mine which were all inspired by the idea which Kerouac and I shared; the relationship of Spontaneity and Formality which provided endless possibilities for all creative artists as opposite sides of the same coin.

    We both believed that the spirit of jazz as a way to celebrate the sanctity of the moment was something precious that only happened one time but which, when we sat alone and tried to decide what we were going to write down on paper, Jack’s words which were written to to be read and my notes which were to be played and heard, would provide us with the chance to combine the energy of the Spontaneous with the enduring value of the Formal.

    By remaining open to all experiences and welcoming to all people , we were given the chance to catch that lightning in a bottle, by being in countless small places way beneath the radar in breathtaking jam sessions, and then going home and given a second chance to edit, develop and refine that boundless energy in our formal work, creating words and music from the heart that spoke to you in the way that these real life experiences spoke to us.

    Jack and I both loved the brilliantly constructed music of Bach and the Baroque masters as much as we cherished the brilliant flights of fancy of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk.

    We both appreciated that during his lifetime, Bach was famous as an improviser as well as a formal composer. and that Parker, Gillespie and Monk’s short sophisticated compositions upon which they based their perfectly constructed spontaneous solos remain timeless and are studied by a new generation of musicians worldwide.

    We hope people will come and bring their families to this concert and hear how the three great musicians who are performing my music can make the four pieces I composed become transformed from notes on paper to a series of special moods and feelings that become alive as a reflection of their own interpretations and creativity.

    During the concert, I will introduce each piece before it is performed and talk about how each one relates to my association with Kerouac.

    Working with classical saxophone master Ken Radnofsky, known as the Segovia of the classical saxophone, accompanied by our pianist for the evening the brilliant young virtuoso Damien Francoeur-Krzyzek and the hearing the artistry and sensitive playing of the renowned viola soloist Consuelo Sherba is a composer’s dream come true.

    These same musicians are all performing these pieces again at my tenth and final 85th birthday celebration which will take place in New York City December 21st. We will hope to bring some of the same special feelings of Kerouac and his hometown from this October 10th concert to Manhattan when we perform these pieces again..

    The four compositions of mine which will be played for the October 10th concert in Lowell are

    l The Wind and the Rain for Viola and Piano (1964)

    ll Finale from Ode to lord Buckley A concerto for Saxophone and piano (1981)

    lll Prologue and Scherzo for unaccompanied saxophone (1999)

    lV Greenwich Village Portraits for Saxophone and piano (2014)
    a) McDougal Street (for Arthur Miller)
    b) Bleecker Street (for Odetta)
    c) Christopher Street (for Frank mcCourt)


    Wish this were closer to Noo Yawk so you could come.

    I have just returned home here in Beacon NY from Chicago, after playing with Willie Nelson’s and his band at the annual Farm Aid concert, and am answering your nice note before the onslaught of crazed activities begins in October. Farm Aid is always such a treat to be at and it was my 26th one, where I always play with Willie’s band as a guest member, when they close the show.

    Farm Aid is always a high point for me every year, because i was brought up on a farm in Feasterville Pennsylvania and had my own little farm in Putnam Valley for 31 years, The struggle for survival for the remaining family farmers remains close to my heart.

    Below is a great photo from 1937 of me milking my cow Emily, on our old farm in Feasterville, which my father, uncle and aunt all owned, long before they had milking machines (or LPs, Cds, the Internet , FM radio, cell phones, or TV)

    But there was always live music to be able to see and hear, often on neighboring farms, at the gas station close to our farm and at our little public school. That’s when i started out,in the second grade, playing the trumpet and piano, in the Fall of 1937, and between farm work (see below) began to practice.

    David Amram milking his cow Emily Feasterville Pennsylvania 1937

    This is my busiest year ever as I turn 85 this Nov 17.

    If I had known that turning 85 would generate so much activity…i would have done it YEARS AGO!!!!

    I and sending you highlights of some of the upcoming concerts which include the many genres of music which have enriched my life and inspired me to be a composer at a time when being a “classical” composer was considered to be a hopeless pursuit.

    I have just been commissioned to write a new chamber music work, a trio for violin, alto saxophone and piano , based on love stories from the novels of Willa Cather, Zora Neale Thurston and Jack Kerouac, to have its world premiere here in the USA as well as its European premiere this coming summer.

    It will be performed by a new chamber music group of incredibly accomplished players from major orchestras who also have solo careers and who have named themselves the Amram Ensemble. They plan to play concerts which include my chamber music as well as pieces by the masters of the past and today’s young composers.

    This is an honor which I never dreamed would happen, and here’s the release which the new group has just sent out.


    Three distinguished musicians have created the AMRAM ENSEMBLE, a new chamber music group.

    Violinist Elmira Darvarova, Saxophonist Kenneth Radnofsky and pianist Damien Francoeur-Krzyzek have created the Amram Ensemble.

    They have commissioned composer David Amram to create a new work for them, to be premiered in 2016.

    Details will be announced when they perform at the December 21st Gala concert in New York City, celebrating his 85th birthday, and 60th year in New York City.

    The new composition commissioned by Elmira Darvarova, Kenneth Radnofsky and Damien Francoeur-Krzyzek for Violin, Saxophone and Piano is in three movements and is entitled AMERICAN LOVE STORIES

    The three movements are based on romances in the novels of three great 20th Century American authors from different eras, all three of whom celebrated the unsung beauties of small town and rural America and the richness of the people who appeared in their novels as characters, who dared to have loving relationships and whose love stories now live on in the books of Willa Cather, Zora Neale Hurston and Jack Kerouac.

    Each of the three movements reflect the spirit of the time and place where these romances took place, and are inspired by the characters created by the authors.

    AMERICAN LOVE STORIES for violin, alto saxophone and piano

    Commissioned by Elmira Darvarova, Kenneth Radnofsky and Damien Francoeur-Krzyzek, founders of the Amram Ensemble

    l Allegro Moderato Antonia and Bill from My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918)

    2 Andante Cantabile Janie and Tea Cake from Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)

    3 Allegro con Brio Terry and Sal from On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)

    The members of the Amram Ensemble are honoring their association with Amram over the years, during which they have performed works by him in Asia, Europe, and across the USA.

    This new group will also program works of the masters of the 18th and 19th and 20th Century who inspired Amram to take his own unique course in music as a composer and performer, always creating new work that celebrates the treasures of the past and often including the neglected beauties of indigenous music of today.

    This is why he has been credited as a pioneer and champion of World Music, decades before it was fashionable to do so.
    In a review of his Violin Concerto, The New York Times said “David Amram was multi-cultural before multiculturalism existed “.

    Programming by the Amram Ensemble will also include special guest artists invited by the group’s three founders and will program selected compositions by today’s young composers, in addition to selected compositions by David Amram.

    Whenever possible, Amram will also be part of the Ensemble’s presentations. And when the members of the Ensemble’s own busy schedules permit, Amram will include the Amram Ensemble in his own programs and events around the world.


    Another 85th birthday miracle which i never expected was a call from a record company in London run by a young man whom I still haven’t met, who is issuing a five-CD box set of all my film scores using jazz and chamber music pieces, which I composed from 1956-2015.
    For the first time, much of this music which never made it to the final cut, can be heard for the first time with major jazz soloists like Paquito d’Rivera, Harold Land, Pepper Adams, Buster Bailey, Slide Hampton, Jimmy Owens, Candido, Cecil Taylor, Jerry Dodgion, Laurindo Almeida and Paul Horn who all add their own matchless creativity to the music, joined with some outstanding classical artists.

    I’m also playing at several jazz and folk festivals and guest conducting around the world and just received an Honorary Doctor of the Arts from Brooklyn College, where I was also invited to be the commencement speaker.

    Several of my symphonic compositions have been recorded this year, including THIS LAND: Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie, which I conducted with the Colorado Symphony in Denver, captured in a live performance, and a bunch of new pieces are scheduled to be recorded in 2016.

    So as I hit the Big Eight Five, a lot of my dreams are being realized, and I can now concentrate more than ever on doing a better job every day at whatever i am doing and try to share my memories of so many of the gifted artists and gracious people I have been blessed to know with a new generation and let these younger people know about those who gave me a moment of their time for support, with the tacit understanding that some day we should do the same for others.

    i realize that it is now my obligation to try to pass on all of that graciousness that was bestowed on so many of us fifty years ago, when we were starting out, and that spirit with today’s generation, to help them them to become as energized and inspired as we were, and to dare to pursue what they feel that that they were placed here to do. And that in turn, they should also remember to share whatever blessings they receive with others.

    But my greatest source of pride and happiness with all that is transpiring today is being with my three kids, Alana, Adira and Adam, now all grownups. Whatever time we have to all be together is always a joy. They remain the blessing of my life and we now have a grandson to celebrate with.

    i am looking forward to reading your NEW BOOK when it is finished.

    At this juncture of our history, growing up Greek American will interest ANYBODY and EVERYBODY who is dealing with their own Old Country/New World family histories and the reality that that family and cultural roots are both something to CELEBRATE rather than to ignore.


    i am looking forward to reading your NEW BOOK when it is finished.

    Exakolouthó na elpízo na máthoun na miloún elliniká kalýtera!

    But in the meantime, i will try to improve my English!

    All cheers and a Big Shana Tovah until it is joined by the Greek New Year!

    (promising young composer)

    • Stephanie Nikolopoulos September 24, 2015 at 11:03 pm #

      Lowell Celebrates Kerouac is one of my favorite events of the year! I’ve had the honor of interviewing Tim Z. Hernandez at a great little bookstore called La Casa Azul in Spanish Harlem. You are right — he is on the case!

      I’m very excited to hear about AMRAM ENSEMBLE! I will have to mark the concert down on my calendar.

      Shana Tovah to you and your family. I remember meeting your daughter and grandson at that wonderful walking tour put on with Lincoln Center. Best wishes to all of you.

      I hope to see you soon, and in the meantime I will be working on my memoir.

  2. skjam2013 September 23, 2015 at 10:51 pm #

    Heck, they will never read Goodnight Moon* to their kids?

    *Insert preferred children’s book if Goodnight Moon is not your style.

    • Stephanie Nikolopoulos September 24, 2015 at 10:56 pm #

      Probably their parents never read to them, and so now they don’t read and don’t read to their own children.

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