Saturday, July 10, 2004

Reading at Risk

The New York Times had an op-ed piece about a report by the National Endowment of the Arts called Reading at Risk. The report, which you can download from their website, states that less than half of the American population now reads literature.

As I scanned the document, I was worried that the NEA had set the bar too high: literature means a certain thing. Literature means Dickens, Shakespeare, and other books that are supposed to be "good for you" (but may not necessarily be fun for you). But the report defines literature as "any novel, short story, plays, or poetry." For purposes of their survey, reading any of the above items "counted as reading literature, including popular genres such as mysteries, as well as contemporary and classic literary fiction. No distinctions were drawn on the quality of literary works."

So we're in trouble. Reading is indeed at risk. The NEA is quite clearly stating that reading for pleasure is in decline. The report doesn't offer an action plan. The report sought to explain, not to prescribe.

Are you reading? In my morning and evening commute (on a train and a bus), my head is buried in a book. But before I hit the pages, I take a brief survey of what people are reading around me. In a train car of perhaps sixty to eighty people, at most only ten have a book in their hands. Most have newspapers or music. Some (to my amazement) just sit.

Since I started this commuting schedule at the end of April, I have read nine books. This makes me part of a dwindling statistic.

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