Monday, January 21, 2008

Morte De Reader?

This morning I have been musing on this interesting phenomenon, the Death of the Reader. (Apologies to Barthes.)

It started with an innocent post on Advergirl, about how her latest book to read is underneath her PS3. And it reminded me of the NEA report scare from before Christmas about how Americans are reading less than they used to. NPR's Talk of the Nation carried the story.

But book sales data is showing it to be true.

There's a great article from this summer's Washington Harry Potter and the death of Reading. A chilling excerpt:
We're experiencing the literary equivalent of a loss of biodiversity.

Alane sent me a great futurist article about whether we would all stop reading altogether by 2050, in favor of voice. (I won't give away the conclusion here--but you may postpone the monograph bonfire at least until tomorrow...)

And of course I approach all of this with a healthy skepticism.

I have not yet read the NEA study. But I do wonder what model of reading they consider "official." Does it count all the little black squiggley things I roam around in, in my online world? Or is reading online not considered *real* reading?

And maybe it shouldn't be. IS there such a thing as *real* (as opposed to psuedo, imaginary, forced or otherwise unreal) reading?


rebecca said...

Connected: Ursula Le Guin's piece in the current Feb2008 issue of Harpers. "Staying Awake: notes on the alleged decline of reading" [excerpt]

Patricia Martin said...

Thanks for taking this issue up. I take a different view on the NEA report, which is the second of its kind. The NEA has had a hard time selling the data in both reports to researchers who find that the results are mixed. Certainly reading has increased across formats. Whether book reading has declined, in particular the classics, or reading in digital platforms is declining is not clear. The NEA is using an tried and true tactic for increasing its budget, which succeeded. They created a lot of anxiety around a supposed middle-class illiteracy crisis and earned a budget increase to solve it. Not that more funds to the NEA is a bad thing, it just tells us something about NEA's intentions with the research.
Patricia Martin
PS Thanks for the link to my book!

Alice said...

Ah Patricia Martin, thanks for reminding us that in life, as with art, there is always a political and social context to the "facts." This context is so important to keep in mind, and often I suffer from the delusion that these facts are like little bits of data in a hermetically-sealed jar. Or something. Good points and on some level, I hope the NEA research IS true because I would hate to think it's a version of crying wolf. Because it means the tactic will be less effective when/if the research becomes "truerer." (In the words of my good friend AH...)

George said...

The thing that irks me about these "death of reading" jeremiads is that the authors always seem to assume there was some halcyon era when all people did was sit around reading for pleasure. That is such a silly notion, and so patently false to anyone with a sense of history or sociology, that you wonder why anyone takes these people seriously. There have always been multiple distractions, there have always been many forms of intellectual and informational input, and there have always been changes in reading patterns. Adapt or die.

As you may have guessed, I haven't kept the New Year's resolution about getting more fiber in my diet.