Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Twilight of the Books

Caleb Crain, in the December 24, 2007 edition of the New Yorker, has an article, Twilight of the Books.

One part book review of Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf, one part summary of recent literacy stats, and one part speculative essay, it is a bit of a dog's breakfast but interesting none-the-less.

I don't agree with his somewhat dispirited conclusions but there is at least meat in the article which is perhaps more than can be said for most articles these days.

There are many cited statistics, almost every one of which sparks further questions as well as objections or ripostes. For example

In 1982, 56.9 per cent of Americans had read a work of creative literature in the previous twelve months. The proportion fell to fifty-four per cent in 1992, and to 46.7 per cent in 2002.

One wonders if this decline is a function of lack of demand on the part of the reading public or a function of lack of supply (quality) on the part of the writing population. Also, since these figures cover a period encompassing a massive migration into the country of people from low literacy backgrounds, one would expect there to be a significant erosion of reading as reported by respondents; was this factored in?

The article is interesting and I do agree with the article's premise that reading is an integral part of our recent human history and a causative factor in the development of our advanced civillization and that there are many mysteries; historical, physio/neurological, and social, attendant to the act of reading which we do not yet fully comprehend and that the barrage of new technologies (radio, TV, internet, etc.) are likely to change reading practices in some way but in ways that are only dimly discerned at this juncture.

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