Sunday, July 18, 2004

The lit blogs have all noted the new NEA study that claims that fewer Americans are reading books, and particularly fiction, than in the past. I'm sort of annoyed by the censorious tone of a lot of the comments in the mainstream press: the problem, they seem to think, is that lazy Americans prefer movies, T.V. and the internet to the more refined pleasures of reading. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether books are necessarily better or more high-brow than other kinds of entertainment, it seems to me that this is probably related to changes in Americans' work lives. We're working longer hours, we have longer commutes, and we don't have a lot of time for any leisure activities. It's not terribly surprising that people would prefer to devote their limited free time to T.V. or movies rather than reading. Movies are social in a way that reading isn't. You can watch a T.V. show in a sitting, which is good if you don't know when you'll next have an hour for yourself. And of course the concept of "beach reading" assumes that you're going to take a vacation, which fewer Americans are doing these days.

I'm still spending my days thinking about treason and espionage. And people think academia is boring!

additionally, i would imagine shitty educational standards should take part of the blame. and while i don't want to pass elitist judgement on people who can't read well enough to enjoy it (many of whom are among my friends, and university students and graduates), that might be a reason people are choosing not to read in their spare time. TV and movies don't take any acquired skill. you just sit down and watch. a two year old can do it. reading books for pleasure is kind of like playing a musical instrument or crafting -- it requires a certain level of confidence with a skill set, and if you don't have that, you can't enjoy it as much. so you might pick up the latest steven king every once in a while, but that's it. just like i might putter around on the guitar or knit scarves occasionally, but those things will never be a major hobby for me unless i go out and get music lessons or take a knitting class.
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