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Reading at risk in Iran, cultural officials say

November 18, 2010 | 12:08 pm

Harrypotter_iran Iran is celebrating its 18th Annual Book Week, but some cultural observers are concerned about the state of reading in the country. In our sibling blog Babylon & Beyond, Ramin Mostaghim and Alexandra Sandles report:

Iran has invested heavily in literacy campaigns over the past 30 years, but some Iranian officials and high-ranking clerics suggest Iranians aren't embracing books after all.

They warned recently that "the culture of reading books" among Iranians is dwindling and, in a string of public speeches during a book event this week, called for the launching of campaigns to increase reading nationwide.

The concerns echo the National Endowment for the Arts' "Reading at Risk" report about American reading habits. Issued in 2004, the study found that Americans reading literature had dropped by 10 percentage points in the two decades from 1982 to 2002.

Yet by 2009, the NEA declared a significant reversal in a new report, "Reading on the Rise." "At a time of immense cultural pessimism, the NEA is pleased to announce some important good news. Literary reading has risen in the U.S. for the first time in a quarter century," then-NEA chairwoman Dana Gioia announced.

Iran has no such formal studies with which to measure how its population is reading. But it does hope to promote reading in innovative ways. Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, chairman of Iran's parliamentary cultural commission, suggested, "We should start giving books as gifts even to newly married couples who mostly receive dishware as presents."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: An Iranian woman reads a copy of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" at a bookstore in Tehran. Credit: Agence France-Presse