May 24, 2007KR BlogUncategorized

Take Two

The elephant in the room. While book lovers are doing the worthy work of trying to save the book review, it occurs to me that now might also be a good time to revisit the National Endowment for the Arts’ Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America. It’s easy to miss the subhead of the survey’s press release–it’s small and, well, discomfiting: “Fewer Than Half of American Adults Now Read Literature.” Three years ago, the NEA warned us that advanced literacy–the capacity to read novels, short stories, and poetry–was in decline. According to the 2004 press release for Reading at Risk, “The most important factor in literacy reading rates is education“Only 14 percent of adults with a grade school education read literature in 2002. By contrast, more than five times as many respondents with a graduate school education–74 percent–read literary works.” I have a vague suspicion that reading literature has become the equivalent of eating your vegetables. As David Lynn wrote in yesterday’s KR Blog, ““good stories and poems do demand time, thoughtfulness, concentration, all of which are in short supply in our world.” Anyone who has ever fallen in love with a book can remember what it was like to wish for rain so that you could spend the whole day reading. The current crisis of diminishing book pages in the daily news is a symptom of a much bigger problem: the majority of Americans (55 percent) have fallen out of love with books. Until we lure them back, all of literature is at risk.

But seriously… What will public libraries look like in 2010? Filled with DVDs, CDs, and–gasp–books, ssshing librarians, surrounded by the mother of all elevator music cliches, “The Girl from Ipanema.” Unless, of course, you steal a TARDIS, hijack Hugh Jackman’s body, and campaign for new technology (and tell people that “books are still cool”). See it for yourself. [Via The Shifted Librarian.]