Reading: the latest
According to John Wilson, of Books and Culture, both the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune are slimming down their book review sections significantly, as have many other major papers throughout America. Newspapers are in as much trouble as casette tapes, and they're all looking to slim down. One of the first sections to go, it seems, is the book review.
Sunday's NY Times Book Review featured a long story on reading in America, and how reading habits are changing across this country and culture. For years already, people have been saying that visual media was eroding reading ability; that's not a new argument. In the last few years, however, a counter argument has arisen: people don't likely read less than they used to, they simply read different materials; when people use the net, as I am now, they read. The NY Times article nicely summarized those arguments.
As a teacher, I've seen reading skills deteriorate in the last thirty years. Yet, it's very important to note that students aren't somehow dumber. They aren't. But they don't read as well.
Let me be clear: they don't read literature as well, and they don't read thoughtful books. If most of one's joy is in texting, reading even Edgar Allen Poe, whose sentences may well average 30 words, becomes a problem.
What the discussion about reading in the NY Times and the demise of book review sections of major American newspapers both suggest is not so much that people don't read as much any more, as that we simply don't read what has been traditionally called "literature." Twice in the last few years, the National Endowment for the Arts has said as much. What's imperiled by the new media, more than anything, is "literature," and, well, serious reading.
It's hard not to become Chicken Little in all of this if you're a writer and literature teacher. But then, I'm coming to the end of my professional life. I'd love to know how graduate school curriculums are shaping up for the future; they must be changing. Sure as anything, we're entering a brave, new world.
But then, there's always the incredible Harry Potter phenomenon, millions of kids devouring huge novels.
Maybe things will change.
And there's this: the article about reading skills was, in fact, the most e-mailed article in the Times for two days. It's not that no one's listening--and it's not that no one's reading.
You can read the NY Times article at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/27/books/27reading.html?em&ex=1217476800&en=3af553d356386347&ei=5087%0A