] Oprah's Book Club may help sell millions of books to
] Americans, and slam poetry may have engendered a youthful
] new breed of wordsmith, but the nation is still caught in
] a tide of indifference when it comes to literature. That
] is the sobering profile of a new survey to be released
] today by the National Endowment for the Arts, which
] describes a precipitous downward trend in book
] consumption by Americans and a particular decline in the
] reading of fiction, poetry and drama.
[ Lots of good statistics to chew on here and lots of discussion to be had... i hope everyone will read this.
I for one, know, categorically, that i read more now than i ever have in the past, even during school (where i was, granted, a physics & CS student). I read constantly and not a day goes by that i don't read for at least an hour. And I'm not talking about reading memo's at work... I read blogs and memes, aritcles and journals, and then i go home and read books, sometimes fine literture, but more often science fiction, or interesting non-fiction related to philosophy or computing or biology or physics.
It may be that my peer group and I are vastly different from the norm, but even among avid readers, i believe there's been a shift in the kind of materials they pursue. I think more people are driven to be "productive" with their time, even their "free time", and have demphasized fiction in general, or feel that they'd prefer to recieve their fictions in the form of movies, TV shows or video games (which get more immersive every cycle). Doing a quick mental survey of my closest friends, i'm confident that most of them spend a great deal more of their reading time on non-fiction, magazines and technical books than they do on fiction.
The more interesting, and harder, questions to answer are those regarding the level of civic involvement, or engagement with culture and society, that follows this trend. Are we cynical from reading blogs and news feeds all day, without the buffer of literary engagements of the very topics we still face? What are the consequences of focusing on "reality" over fiction, if that's what's happening?
I certainly have argued in favor of fiction many times in the past and i continue to hold strongly to that stand. I think a good novel can often convey more information, and in a more meaningful way, than a nonfiction work covering the same conceptual bases. Not always, but often enough to make it worthwhile. Addtionally, I strongly believe in not addressing everything in a purely pragmatic sense, and feel that escapism, in moderation, is every bit as important as ticking off accomplishments. The best literature, of course, is the kind that lets you do both simultaneously, and perhaps that's the real danger... missing out on the experience of being both enlightened and entertained.
In the end of course, it's all about choices... I prefer books, and my connection to them is as much experiential as it is functional... I still like the feel of the paper and the choice of type, size, weight, design and so on. I'll be interested to see other, similar anlyses, particularly ones which investigate the amount of non-fiction reading and levels of "new media" investment.
p.s. anyone find it interesting/disturbing that religious texts jumped? i wonder what qualifies too, incidentally... does my copy of The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama (which i admit isn't religious, but certainly qualifies as spiritual) count, or only my bible?]