There is some concern in the publishing industry about the fact that every year there are fewer readers in this country. We all know why, and I'm not here to argue that it's wrong, wrong, wrong, even though it is.

The question is what can build interest in reading? Those factors need to be cultivated. For one thing, there's the popularity of certain books among young people. Once a kid has developed an interest in Potter or Goosebumps or Chillermania, chances are he will understand the joys of reading and continue to read.

Second, there's the variety of reading choices available. Anyone, young or old, who says he can't find anything good to read isn't paying attention. Libraries are more user-friendly than ever, schools bend over backward to make reading a pleasant priority, and even used bookstores, which some authors hate, make books economically accessible to the masses.

Reading is a skill, and like other skills, it must be practiced. The more people read, the more they tend to enjoy reading. Interest creates incentive; then the process of actually reading improves a reader's skill level, improving the three basics of reading: speed, vocabulary, and comprehension. As interest spurs reading those skills are practiced, and practice makes...maybe not perfect, but better. Thus, interest and ability come together and encourage more reading.

So what can we do to create readers? Talk to people about reading. Let people know what you read and why. Loan out your books if that isn't too traumatic for you. I've had many people read a book simply because I recommended it and then offered it to them. They might never have gone out and found it on their own, but they usually enjoy the experience when someone says, "Read this. I think you'll like it."

Young people in particular need to hear others talk about reading and the enjoyment it brings. They may have had bad experiences with the Dreaded Book Report. Often they have no acquaintance with people who read. As an educator, I can't tell you how many times over the years students told me, "I'd never read a book before, but I really liked this one." A big reason for this was because my book reports were individualized. Students chose from a loooooong list I'd compiled of books I've read, and we discussed them in some depth before settling on one. When they finished the book we talked about it at some length, one-on-one, so that they experienced the pleasure of discussing a shared experience. (I must admit there were humorous times when some tried to fake their way through, but that's a subject for another day.)

You can't just say to a person, "You should read more." It's a little like fishing; you have to bait the hook attractively by recommending something that appeals to that individual. Then it helps to provide some debriefing, a chance to talk about what the reader felt, good or bad.

My husband started reading for enjoyment at middle age. At first he read only one type of book, but I made every effort to find as many of his preferred genre as I could. Gradually he has expanded his horizons, and we're now at the point of exchanging reading material: he recommends books to me as often as I recommend to him.

I gotta tell you: there's not much that's more satisfying to a writer than recruiting new members into the fold of the Reading Public.

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