Just as Amazon is positioning its new $400 e-reader as a tempting stocking stuffer, news arrives about a drop in the U.S. literacy rate. The Boston Globe reports this morning that U.S. fourth graders are losing ground in literacy, for the first time lagging behind Russia, Hong Kong, and Singapore, according to an international study recently completed at Boston College. Apparently the children are not alone. We spoke to a New York City book publicist yesterday, seeking services for an author. She declined, noting that these days, her firm doesn’t do much with “text-intensive” adult books. “Most people are reluctant readers,” she noted, and thus her firm is concentrating on graphic novels, “by far the fastest-growing market in publishing today—it’s just huge.” These are picture books for adults, a kind of comic book on a larger and higher quality scale. Publishers Weekly reported that sales for this type of book “hit $330 million in 2006, a 12% increase over revised sales figures for 2005.” Just for the sake of juxtaposition, look at a New York City newspaper from a hundred years ago—at that time there were many independent newspapers to choose from, published every morning, afternoon, and evening—and you’ll find wall-to-wall prose on just about every oversized page, with graphics being the exception rather than the rule, serving avid rather than reluctant readers.