On Reading Ages

What is a reading age? Is it a measure of understanding, or more a recommendation of appropriate content?

I just picked up Neil Gaiman's "The View From The Cheap Seats" from the ever wonderful Toronto Public Library, and in the introduction he talks about getting facts right as a journalist versus telling truths as a fiction writer, mentioning something he had taken as fact which appeared to later be false.

Namely, that the illiteracy rates of ten and eleven year olds is used as a measure by which future prison cells are built - something he says was told him by the then head of education of New York, and repeated on the BBC when they said that half of all prisoners in the UK had the reading age of an eleven year old, or below.

In this case, it seems more likely to be a measure of comprehension than suggestion.

When I was eleven, I was reading books I would still read now, reading supposedly "above my age". And right now, at the ripe old age of 30, I still read books explicitly targeted at the "young adult", i.e., adolescent and pre-adolescent audience.

Maybe I'm one of the outliers, because when I was a child the thing I wanted to do more than anything all the time was read. And when you're a child you have pretty much unlimited time to yourself - there's only so much homework, chores and TV time. Most kids spent the extra time outside. I spent it buried in a book, sitting outside if need be.

Needless to say, I found it pretty easy to outread the (rather significant) collections in my primary school library every term. To the point where every time they had a brand new shipment of books in, the librarian at the time would let me take home two or three books sans library barcode stickers, knowing they'd be back within a day or two.

So what was my reading age at eleven? Am I regressed to a younger reading age now that I don’t read nearly as quickly or voraciously because *the Internet*?

Or is it a subjective term used to categorize us demographically into a marketable public?

Questions, questions.