The concept of burning wood in a fireplace on a chilly evening may not yet be pass/, but a National Endowment for the Arts survey has found that the number of Americans curling up with a good book — in front of the fire or anywhere else — is rapidly declining.

For all the popularity of the “Harry Potter” books and other similar series, young people aren’t reading as much as they once did, the survey compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau at the NEA’s request shows. Only 30 percent of 13-year-olds said they read for fun. And fewer than half of the nation’s adults read literary novels, short stories, plays or poetry. The number of adults who read books of any type has declined by 7 percent since 1992.

Electronic media dominate mainstream entertainment, and the public culture has become almost entirely commercial and novelty driven, NEA Chairman Dana Gioia told USA Today.

Even college-educated young adults have joined the trend. Historically, a college education produced lifelong readers. But that’s not happening any more.

Certainly, life has become more complex with job and family obligations consuming more and more of our time. But reading is losing out to competition from television, video games and computers. Perhaps some reading is taking place when people are logged on to the Internet, but most Web readers are indeed “just browsing.”

This could ultimately result in significant consequences to society. Researchers have noticed a strong link between people who read literary material and those who are actively involved in civic projects, charitable causes and other community-oriented events.

Books written by national leaders tend to receive major coverage in electronic media. But how many Americans choose to believe what the conclusions offered by the talking heads, instead of picking up a copy and finding out the details for themselves?

Democratic government depends on a well-read and informed base of voters.

The NEA predicts that without a resurgence in reading, the next generation will consider reading a book a throwback to the past — an ancient practice from their grandparents’ era like hanging clothes out to dry on a line or having children walk to school.

Read a good book lately? Better yet, do you have one on your Christmas wish list?

Brownwood Bulletin