Friday, July 09, 2004

The 'Rithmetic of Reading. And Writing.

The National Endowment of the Arts, based on a Census Department study, has issued a sobering report, Reading at Risk, which notes that reading is declining, in every geographic region, within all age and ethnic groups and at all educational strata. The report states that only 56.6 percent of those surveyed had read any book during the previous twelve months. Reading of literature (novels, short stories, plays, and poems) has declined even more dramatically.

While Internet usage presumably involves some reading, reading terse, factual information does not replace reading literature, because the material does not have the same personal and cultural resonance. The reader's dilemma is comparable to choosing a television commercial over an epic film, or listening to a jingle as opposed to a symphony. With the easier, more pervasive choice, long-term satisfaction is lost.

And what does this phenomenon imply for the future of the written word? Are the people who do not read the same people who do not write (or write well)? Has our collective depth of thought about important things (philosophy, art, science, politics) reached that of the proverbial mud puddle? Is it any wonder that people come to the library for the free computers, and nothing more? This is spiritually exhausting. I must read now.

Fewer Noses Stuck in Books in America, Survey Finds, by Bruce Weber, The New York Times, July 8, 2004, p. B1.