Thursday, August 11, 2005

Summer reading?

The National Endowment for the Arts recently released a report titled, “Reading at Risk.” The findings are straightforward: “Literary reading in America is not only declining rapidly among all groups, but the rate of decline has accelerated, especially among the young.” Report available here: http://www.nea.gov/news/news04/ReadingAtRisk.html The numbers: 1982: 56.9% of adults were reading literature 1992: 54 % 2002: 46.7% “The 10-point drop,” the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics notes, “represents a loss of 20 million potential readers.” That’s a lot fewer people reading beyond newspapers, current events nonfiction, blogs and news magazines! Reading at Risk notes, “More than reading is at stake. The decline in reading… parallels a larger retreat from participation in civic and cultural life. The long-term implications of this study not only affect literature but all the arts – as well as social activities such as volunteerism, philanthropy, and even political engagement.” It further notes, “Reading is not a timeless, universal capability. Advanced literacy is a specific intellectual skills and social habit that depends on a great many educational, cultural, and economic factors. As more Americans lose this capability, our nation become less informed, active, and independent-minded. These are not qualities that a free, innovative, or productive society can afford to lose.” What does this all mean? “At the current rate of loss, literary reading as leisure activity will virtually disappear in half a century,” the report concludes. That disappearance would be a tragedy indeed. Life without Bowles, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Greene or Hardy? A shelf without It All Comes Down, To Kill a Mockingbird, Nana, Native Son, Cold Comfort Farm or Their Eyes Were Watching God? Can the United States really afford to become “less informed, active and independent-minded?” Summer's not over yet. Pick up a piece of great literature and read!