Wednesday, July 21, 2004

More on Not Reading in America

From The Chronicle Review (via Bookninja:

"Almost nothing in our culture," the distinguished New York book editor Elisabeth Sifton memorably observed in a Harper's symposium years ago, "encourages the private moment of reading." I love that line. I also believe in its ironic, absurdist corollary: "Almost nothing in the modern American newspaper and magazine encourages the private moment of reading." Owners slash space for book reviews and coverage at the same time that they bemoan their own loss of readers. Then they order the remaining readers to do anything -- ANYTHING -- but read in their spare time. True, the three highest-circulation seven-day-a-week newspapers in America are also the three with the most powerful book coverage. But the NEA isn't worried in "Reading at Risk" about beneficiaries of the enlightened managers of The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. So we're left with a general media environment in which the readerly commit a kind of cultural suicide in pursuit of the less readerly. In magazine and newspaper offices across the country, well-educated editors stuff their publications with pieces about trash movies, hip-hop hotties, reality-TV spinoffs, and ingénue profiles -- then go home and read a book. As print people drive their hordes toward nonprint media, TV folks -- supposedly a dimmer breed -- cleverly ignore the competition, rarely acknowledging what's in the local papers and almost never devoting a minute to a nonpresidential book.
An interesting thought. Is it true? I can't say if it is since I rarely watch TV, don't subscribe to the newspaper (I get my news from Public Radio and the Internet), and I usually read mainly gardening and Mac magazines with an occasional writing magazine tossed in for kicks. I find that reading magazines and newspapers and watching TV takes away from my reading time. I'd much rather read a book than find out 10 new ways to burn fat or or raise my blood pressure by reading about Bush's latest announcement. Apparently that makes me a bit unusual. So be it.