Thursday, July 10, 2008

Who reads any more?

Jane Mack's post on my post got me thinking. (And how incestuous is the internet?)

I've been reading dire predictions of the demise of books since I learned to read. Publishers have figures to show it-- I won't Google the stats this time-- and an amazing number of people tell me they don't read books.

A little elitism here. So what? An amazing number do read. Every American can vote, except for President, and about half do. That's about how many read literature. (There's probably a lot of overlap, but no, I don't necessarily think they're the same people.)

The need to be distracted, amused, entertained is deep-rooted in our psyche. I read a Buddhish guru years ago who said Americans even need to read in the bathroom because they don't like to be alone with their thoughts.

Our distractions of choice are television and the internet. It doesn't have to be a bad thing. There are great TV shows and the Librarian of Alexandria would envy what's available on computers. Trashy reality shows and trashy web sites are there because someone expects them to draw people. Que sera, I don't read Romance novels.

OK, the reading decline is steepest for young folk, and that's bothersome. I was reading a biography of Red Smith, and in his foreword New York Times sportswriter Ira Berkow said he hadn't read much of anything in High School. Knowing that, and reading his book, I feel safe in saying he will never match Red Smith. It's difficult for me to imagine a good writer who isn't also a reader.

I would expect a lot of people to return to the book fold for one reason or another, just as (hopefully) their online adventures will progress beyond My Space and World of Warcraft.

Also hopefully, beyond the world-wiki-web. Motto: If it's wrong today someone will correct it tomorrow.

Myself, I'm revving up for Dave Attel's revival of the Gong Show on Comedy Central. I've often said I'd only run a karaoke bar if you could make them stop doing that.


Jeff said...

This dumbing down of the whole culture makes it extremely hard to be a teacher. I'm on the front lines trying to reverse this trend, and sometimes it feels like I'm not getting very far.

Boni said...

There's something about a book. Turning the pages, getting past the middle, closing your eyes to imagine and opening your imagination to see. We can teach kids how to learn to read all we want, but it doesn't do any good if we never teach them how to love to read. Good luck Jeff and teachers everywhere, keep those pages turning!

Bruce A. Bateman said...

Ed Stevens wrote a few months back about the various attempts to make true, portable electronic books. His take was that, so far, they are not a replacement.

When the day comes that the technology does satisfy that lean-against-a-tree feeling it may be the start of a new reading revolution. Imagine sitting under that tree being able to wifi download anything ever written to read.

Jeff might even be able to get those 8th graders to go for The Red Badge of Courage.

Boni said...

I have books on my palm and books on my laptop and they can never replace the feel of a book in my hand. What would all the bookshelf makers do?

Saipan Writer said...

I love books, too. Can't say whether the next generation and the one after that, and all the future ones to come will feel the same way.

It's wrong to think that it's a teacher's job to make kids love books. This is where parenting comes in. Teachers can help, but habits start at home. And reading (like thinking)is a habit to be developed.

And it's not easy getting some kids to read. As much as I love books, as much as I've read to my daughter from infancy on, taken her to the library and book stores, and done everything I can think of--even books on tape, she's not a fan of reading books.

She'll go for magazines. She'll pour over manga (those Japanese graphic novels). And she does enjoy listening to a book on tape (but NOT following along in the real book).

Sometimes you just have to keep pushing and hope that someday, it will all make a difference.

Because books are so-o-o-o worth reading (well, some books).

And while I don't read those romance novels, either, Ken, I do have Chamorro nieces here, and stateside relatives of all persuasions, who do.

One trick I've learned-give a book as a gift, but slip a little greenback between the pages. When it's found, it makes the recipient happy, and pushes one more good association with books.

ah, rambling now...sorry...

Anyway, I'm guessing there is hope for the industry, and those of us who love to read.

Lil' Hammerhead said...

Radio didn't get rid of books, Theaters didn't, TV didn't, and the internet isn't. There's so much more emphasis on reading at the high school level nowadays. My kids read more in their freshman years than I did my whole life. I think the advent of the internet has spurred more reading. Books are great.. all reading is good. Whether that comes from comic books, magazines, or the internet.

Boni said...

When my kids turned one they all had book birthdays to establish a personal library. Every book was signed by the giver and they are a treasure. True, parents must be the first teachers and primary role models.

Jeff said...

I'm reading the Red Badge right now, Bruce ironically enough.

KAP said...

An amazing little book, I'd forgotten how good it was until my son forced me to read it.

I didn't like the movie as a kid, which speaks to Boni's point about imagination. Most movie adaptations are terrible, usually because I'm thinking, or shouting, 'that's not right!' You're also more observer than participant.

That's the problem I have with my kids: getting them to share the sense of wonder and possibilities I get from some books. The idea of learning for its own sake too, I guess. Just because I'm curious.

I seem to lack that gift and admire those who have it. The best teachers I've run across, for instance.

Oh, Romance novels were just an example. I wasn't putting them down. Stephen King would be the first to tell you he doesn't write Literature. OK, I don't read him either, but there's nothing wrong with it.