15 Interesting Facts about Reading for International Literacy Day

Interesting facts about literacy and reading in honour of International Literacy Day

In honour of International Literacy Day on 8 September, we’ve put together fifteen of our favourite facts about literacy and reading. Some are funny, some are surprising, and some are shocking; but all, we hope, are interesting in some way. This post might be considered a sequel to our previous post comprising 10 great quotations for International Literacy Day.

Reading for just six minutes a day can reduce stress by 68%.

‘Bibliotherapy’ is ‘the use of reading matter for therapeutic purposes’.

In 1879, Charles J. Dunphie published a book called Sweet Sleep: A Course of Reading Intended to Promote That Delightful Enjoyment.

All my good reading, you might say, was done in the toilet. – Henry Miller

Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness, avoided reading reviews of his work and instead measured them with a ruler. The longer the review, the better he felt about it.

On days when he gave public readings from his novels, Charles Dickens had two tablespoons of rum with fresh cream for breakfast, and a pint of champagne for tea.

A 1993 study concluded that 23% of American adults were functionally illiterate.

My personal hobbies are reading, listening to music, and silence. – Edith Sitwell

A study of 1995 found that 85% of young people who appear before the juvenile courts of the US are functionally illiterate.

A 2009 study found that 63% of American adult prisoners are illiterate.

In a recent survey of 2,000 people, it was found that 26% of readers lied about having read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good. – Samuel Johnson

At the Chatterley trial in 1960, when Penguin Books was put on trial for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence, the prosecuting lawyer asked the jury if it was ‘a book that you’d even wish your wife or your servants to read’.

Someone who is ‘omnilegent’ has read everything, or is familiar with a great amount of literature.

H. L. Mencken came up with a word for people who read too much: ‘bibliobibuli’. (As if there is such a thing as reading too much!)

Why can’t people just sit and read books and be nice to each other? – David Baldacci

J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis held competitions to see who could read the longest excerpt of ‘bad’ romantic novelist Amanda McKittrick Ros without laughing.

B. S. Johnson’s 1969 novel The Unfortunates was published as a box full of unbound pages which the reader could put together in any order.


Canadian intellectual Marshall McLuhan thought readers should turn to page 69 of any book to determine whether it’s worth reading.

If you enjoyed these facts about reading, you might also enjoy our 30 interesting facts about books.


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  5. I go for the David Baldacci quote.

  6. Bibliobibuli! What a great word although clearly the man was insane! Read too much, as if!

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  9. Great facts, some of them sad. I had no idea so many people did not know how to read. I’m a bookacholic, but shun meetings because they stop me from reading. :)

  10. So there’s no point in offering functionally illiterate students a guide to how to stay out of trouble?! Seriously, those statistics about 1990s US prisoners (which I don’t expect has changed for the better) make depressing reading except for those who have the political power to do something positive and lasting about it but can’t be bothered.

    • The correlation between illiteracy and crime is indeed depressing – and is once again proof that giving someone a good education and the ability to read (and thus get a good job – though that’s not the only benefit) lessens the chances that they’ll turn to a life of crime. Depressing, but worth drawing attention to, we felt, especially given International Literacy Day tomorrow.

  11. Are all the health-related points applicable to humans or just feline readers?

    • I must have been using bibliotherapy for most of my life! I’m nearly 70! My earliest memory of reading is reading a story about an American Elk ?? I read the Knights of the Round Table and Blyton’s Five stories. Teen reading incl Agatha Christie, John Wyndham, Pan Book of Horror Stories and Poetry. After Colin Wilson’s The Outsider I read almost everything he discussed in his books!

      • If you haven’t read his work already, add Boris Akunin’s Erast Petrovich adventures to your therapy. Hilarious & thought-provoking reads for cats of all ages.

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  13. This is great! And I am all for a pint of champagne for tea!