I read Goodbye to All That (The decline of the coverage of books isn't new, benign, or necessary) by Steve Wasserman and although it is a long article, Wasserman makes some points that hit home with me:
Obsessive devotion to the written word is rare. Acquiring the knowledge and technique to do it well is arduous. Serious readers are a peculiar breed. Elizabeth Hardwick, for one, has always known this. “Perhaps the love of, or the intense need for, reading is psychological, an eccentricity, even something like a neurosis, that is, a pattern of behavior that persists beyond its usefulness, which is controlled by inner forces and which in turn controls.” For this kind of reading is a profoundly antisocial act: it cannot be done in concert with friends; it is not a branch of the leisure industry, whose entertainments, whether video or computer or sports or rock ’n’ roll, can be enjoyed in the mass. How many times, for instance, did you ever say as a child: “Leave me alone! Can’t you see I’m reading?”
There is certainly some truth in that. "Obsessive devotion" to reading is so solitary as to frequently move into the antisocial category, don't you think? Are serious readers a "peculiar breed"? Mmmm...yeah.
As Wasserman quotes statistics and worries that we "totter on the edge of an abyss of profound cultural neglect", he pauses and reflects:
But perhaps this is too bleak a view. After all, 96 million readers is a third of the country. As John Maxwell Hamilton, a longtime journalist and commentator on Public Radio International’s Marketplace, writes in his irreverent and trenchant book, Casanova Was a Book Lover, “People who care about books care profoundly. What they lack in numbers they make up for in passion [emphasis mine]. A typical mid-1980s study illustrates the fidelity of readers to reading. Only half of the American public, the study found, had read at least one book in the past six months. Of those ‘readers,’ however, almost one-third devoured at least one book a week.”
I love that thought--that we "care profoundly" about books and though we may be few in numbers serious readers are passionate about books.
And I agree with Wasserman that:
...It is through the work of novelists and poets that we understand how we imagine ourselves and contend with the often elusive forces—of which language itself is a foremost factor—that shape us as individuals and families, citizens and communities, and it is through our historians and scientists, journalists and essayists that we wrestle with how we have lived, how the present came to be, and what the future might bring.
Readers know that. They know in their bones something newspapers forget at their peril: that without books, indeed, without the news of such books—without literacy—the good society vanishes and barbarism triumphs. I shall never forget overhearing some years ago, on the morning of the first day of the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, a woman asking a UCLA police officer if he expected trouble. He looked at her with surprise and said, “Ma’am, books are like Kryptonite to gangs.” There was more wisdom in that cop’s remark than in a thousand academic monographs on reforming the criminal justice system. What he knew, of course, is what all societies since time immemorial have known: If you want to reduce crime, teach your children to read. Civilization is built on a foundation of books.
Sometimes we really do forget how important books and reading are to our way of life. They are the means by which we transmit much of our culture, social beliefs, religion, technology, tradition..
And this article on literacy...
I've finished my first book for the RIP Challenge and will review it soon.