Staying awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading by Ursula K. Le Guin

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

Hearty recommendation of the day:

“Staying awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading”
by Ursula K. Le Guin
published: February 2008 in Harper’s Magazine

… but the tone of the AP piece was remarkable for its complacency. Quoting a project manager for a telecommunications company in Dallas who said, “I just get sleepy when I read,” the AP correspondent, Alan Fram, commented, “a habit with which millions of Americans can doubtless identify.”

Self-satisfaction with the inability to remain conscious when faced with printed matter seems questionable. But I also want to question the assumption—whether gloomy or faintly gloating—that books are on the way out. I think they’re here to stay. It’s just that not all that many people ever did read them. Why should we think everybody ought to now?

A very interesting and thoughtful response to the whole furor that erupted over the NEA’s “Reading at Risk” survey.

As well, there is a little of the history of literacy, the “social function of literature” (delightfully illustrated by that favorite anecdote of Dickens’s “Little Nell”) and the fact the reading requires effort. It is also very informative on the subject of the state of the book publishing industry today: the tragedy of neglected and abandoned backlist titles, the scourge of multimillion dollar advances, the treating of books as though they were commodities.

You have to be a subscriber to access it online, or you could (gasp) get you hands on a paper copy at your local magazine seller or library. Thanks to So Many Books for mentioning the article’s existence.

Happy reading!

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