Yesterday, I read an interesting article in the New York Times called "Fewer Noses Stuck in Books in America, Survey Finds" (registration required). Not quite an eloquent title, but the article discusses the decline in reading amongst Americans in all demographics. A survey called "Reading at Risk" was released yesterday by the National Endowment for the Arts who is really more interested in the percentage of people reading novels, short stories, plays and poetry. The survey is inclusive of all literature however. According to survey data, fewer than half of Americans over 18 read any of the above mentioned genres of literature. Demand for books in all different genres has greatly diminished through the years. Bruce Weber writes,
"What this study does is give us accurate numbers that support our worst fears about American reading," said Dana Gioia, the chairman of the endowment, who will preside over a discussion of the survey results at the New York Public Library this morning. "It quantifies what people have been observing anecdotally, but the news is that it has been happening more rapidly and more pervasively than anyone thought possible. Reading is in decline among all groups, in every region, at every educational level and within every ethnic group," he said, calling the survey results "deeply alarming."
Whaddya know? People have been predicting this for years. In light of our culture's blatant aversion to anything that doesn't include commercials, Weber goes on prodding for possible reasons,
"The study, with its stark depiction of how Americans now entertain, inform and educate themselves, does seem likely to fuel debate over issues like the teaching and encouragement of reading in schools, the financing of literacy programs and the prevalence in American life of television and the other electronic media that have been increasingly stealing time from readers for a couple of generations at least. It also raises questions about the role of literature in the contemporary world."
Interestingly enough, awhile back, I discussed my "distaste
" for many of the classics we've all come to worship. Kevin Starr, professor and librarian was interviewed for the article and remarked,
"There are two distinct cultures that have evolved, and by far the smaller is the one that's tied up with book and high culture. You can get through American life and be very successful without anybody ever asking you whether Shylock is an anti-Semitic character or whether 'Death in Venice' is better than 'The Magic Mountain'.
I suppose it wouldn't disprove his point if I admitted I have no clue what he's talking about? Being well-read and its usefulness in society. Now that's
a discussion I could sink my teeth into. I would break that concept up into two points of discussion. The question of whether or not people should be well-read is a simple one. Yes. The greater question is well-read in what
? We all agree this nation could stand to stress literacy just a tad more. Heck, from the cultural context I know for a fact that Black families don't stress reading nearly as much as other cultures. In terms of what literary work should occupy the arsenal of the average American adult, I say it should vary. The last thing we need is a bunch of ninnies running around quoting Dickens; especially when there's so many well-written and prolific treasures collecting dust in the corner of the library. Many are even written by foreigners. If we're all reading the same books do we really have a well-rounded society?