Saturday, January 26, 2008

No decline of reading in our household

Our family spent 4 hours at the west LA Border's today. Iris read 4 books and purchased one to take home as a keeper. (I sneaked across the street to Loehman's for part of the time. ) While sitting next to Iris, I perused a bunch of magazines and books. Did anyone read Ursula Le Guin's essay in the February 2008 Harper's Monthly, Staying awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading?

Le Guin has an interesting premise. She does not dispute that book reading has declined in the last 50 years. But she does put the decline in a larger historical context. Reading didn't become a pop culture phenom until about 1850 and it appears to have declined after 1950. Though, we are coming down from a golden century of reading, reading is still more popular today than historical norms.

Additionally, she takes issue with the wording and methodology of the surveys. What is enjoyment of literature? Apparently, works of nonfiction do not count in some surveys. Neither do newspapers and magazine. Ditto the internet. Do read the whole article. She also has a short, thought-provoking blurb about blogging.

I scanned a sample page of the only "literature" that I have read in the last month or so. WARNING! It contains adult language and themes.

I loved everything about this book, even the design of the page. Notice the way the title is incorporated on every page of text? The title, A Long Way Down, is a double entendre; the true meaning is apparent only near the end. I don't want to give away too much here. But a book in which a homeless guy appears in a climactic scene, spouting Pauline Kael, is just side-splittingly funny. (Click the page to make it big and read JJ's section.)

In non-literary reading, I have recently enjoyed in the past month:
Going back one more month:I heartily recommend all the books above.

There were some other books started, but not finished. They are omitted from the list as are the books I read for work, all non-fiction. I have also read parts of several quilting, knitting and other craft books. If the AP pollster calls our house and asks me how many works of literature I read recently, I would come out as a pretty poor reader. Go figure.

LA looked pretty as a postcard this morning. The air was clear in a way that only happens after a storm. The snow-capped mountains ringed the city like a pearl necklace. Palm trees swaying in the breeze... On days like this, one truly understands why movies and dreams are made here.

Our child wanted to spend the day inside a bookstore.


  1. I'm very keen on reading Kingsolver's book, but I may wait a few months for paperback. Although it's right in line with what I'm thinking and pondering at present. I'm about to start another stuff diet -- well, really a stuff purge.

  2. I borrowed AVM from the library. I am trying to use the library more as part of the stuff diet.

  3. Anonymous17:35

    I tend to forget about all the reading that gets done that isn't related to a book: I check several news sources on the internet, other internet reading, magazines, actual newspapers. And yes sometimes books, but then, if I read books something else gets neglected. I haven't read the article yet, but I think the point that most people were not readers of books is well made.

    The library is a great source, but I have to pretty much order everything I want from elsewhere, I don't think I have borrowed a single book that was actually found on my local library shelves. I want to read Kingsolver's book too, although I often have prolonged arguments in my head with her when I am reading her books. Perhaps it will move further up the list.


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