There was an article in the paper not long ago citing a "recent survey" that found that only 1 out of 4 Americans have read a book in the past year. I don't put a lot of stock in surveys, but I like that the question has prompted some discussion among bloggers about how our own reading habits fit in with these statistics.
Sometimes I think I feel about books the way my Italian friend feels about food and recipes. It's not just enough to try a book/recipe. You have to first give careful consideration to what kind of book/recipe you want to try. Then you have to make sure just the right ingredients are available. You enjoy the entire experience of cooking/reading the selection. And then afterward you discuss it in great detail so as to relive the entire experience.
Even though I'm currently a "reading snob" I can see how it would be easy to get out of the reading habit, and did so for a number of years. My love for reading started in the third grade with Charlotte's Web. After that, it seemed I always had my nose in a book, through grade school, junior high and high school. I developed the habit of picking up a book and, literally, not stopping until I had finished the last page. I guess in those days I was a fast reader and had the luxury of a lot of time on my hands. In college, I was so absorbed in required reading for history and English classes that I had little or no time for free reading and just fell out of the habit. If I couldn't read a book in just a few sittings, it didn't seem worth starting.
Later, at some point, I joined a book club, partly to get out of the house when the kids were little and partly to stimulate my brain to think about something other than diapers and pre-school literature. It wasn't until about six years ago, when I had foot surgery that I fell back into reading -- and finally learned to discipline myself to read a few chapters if that's all I have time for! My foot surgery turned me into a couch potato for about a week -- 24/7. And after that, I was on crutches for several months, so I still had lots of down time. I remember reading several books --Doris Kearns Goodwin's No Ordinary Time, is the one that sticks in my mind, and I realized how much I missed reading as a daily activity. Now, it's rare that I don't have at least one book going.
I grew up in a family that loves books. My parents were both readers, and our home contained numerous bookcases, including one in every bedroom. For my 10th birthday I received a bookcase for my bedroom and I was so excited! A place to put more books! We had a strict bedtime as kids, but were allowed an extra half-hour before lights out to read.
My husband always has a book going, though we read very different kinds of books. He reads every night before he goes to sleep. I am amazed, however, that when he's too tired to continue, he can stop himself mid-paragraph! When I get together with my family, the topic of conversation always turns to "what are you reading?" My aunt, mother-in-law and stepmom are always sources for a good book and we are constantly trading books among the four of us.
I think the whole idea of instilling reading as a habit in kids is one of those nature vs. nurture things. My oldest son has had a book in his hand since he was first able to grasp at anything. Even before he could read, he was taking books to bed instead of a blankie or a stuffed animal. Yes, being a first child, my husband and I were determined to do everything "right" and we read to him without fail, every single night. But we did with #2 also. And he rarely wanted a book read more than once. We would often have to coax him to sit still for a story. He was expected to do the same reading programs as #1, took him to story hour and to Barnes & Noble for a "treat" where he would (and still does) head for the games or music department. Other than the sports section of the newspaper, he just doesn't like to read. Child #3 got the same reading prep treatment though admittedly not as enthusiastically or consistently. She loves to be read to, and at the age of 10 has taken a sudden interest in the library, the book store and writing stories. I think that you can provide all the books and opportunity, but the love of reading is something that people often come to on their own.