Mark Kleiman thinks the following statistics are self-evidently depressing:
Annual U.S. expenditure on books: $17 billionWhere’s the problem? First, books are durable, while alcohol is not. When I finish a book, the book hasn’t been consumed – I can lend it out to friends and relatives, and often do. Many of the books I read are books I’ve either borrowed from friends or checked out from the library. Alcohol is worthless to anyone else once I’ve drunk it.
Annual U.S. expenditure on alcohol: $105 billion
Second, I’m hardly a philistine non-reader, yet even if I purchased every book I read, I doubt I could come close to equalizing spending on alcohol and books. If I have four alcoholic drinks a week (a conservative estimate) at L.A. bar/restaurant prices, that comes to about $25 a week – the equivalent of one hardback or three paperback books. I’m afraid I don’t read that many books, so I’d be hard put to criticize all the non-academics out there for not doing so.
Third, books aren’t the only readable things out there. We have magazines, newspapers, journal articles, and cereal boxes, all of which I (and probably many other Americans) consume in much greater quantities than books.