The Investigation of Reading Habits Is Hotly Debated

When Simon Eliot was 13 years old, he had a crush on the local librarian. Naturally, Mr. Eliot, now a professor of literature at England's Open University, haunted the library. Hoping to impress, he stood by shelves of weighty philosophers, absorbed in thought; he checked out Hume and Kant. But he never read them.

That's the kind of problem scholars face when they try to make sense of records about what and how people read in the past.

The history of reading is one of the