April 20th, 2007

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

Whither reading?...

Or perhaps that should be, "wither, reading?" - there is a disquieting trend that is becoming obvious out there.

A little while ago, in February, I stumbled on this particular report:

The Associated Press is ending the book review package provided to
newspapers, Editor and Publisher reports.

A spokesperson says the "AP is revamping its Lifestyles coverage to
focus more resources on topics like food and parenting, and as a
result we are discontinuing the book-review package that had moved
through that department."

She adds that book coverage will continue through the Arts and
Entertainment Department, though the emphasis appears to be on news
and features.

Chop, chop, chop. Who needs books when you can have scintillating recipes or other more "lifestyley" features such as how to arrange cushions on your sofa or which plasma TV to choose? Oh, hey, I know, people have to eat - and watching the latest game on the best possible hardward has to count for something. Like, who needs books anyway...?

Perhaps you think I'm over-reacting. Perhaps I am. But both as a reader AND as a writer things like this sting - people like me seem to be increasingly dismissed as harmless kooks who can go away and indulge their shameful little reading habit in private, thank you very much. Perhaps some day reading in public will come to be regarded as just as "dangerous" to public morals as breastfeeding a child is today - who knows, someone's passions might get so inflamed at the sight of a book in another person's hand that they'll race off to the nearest bookstore and buy several, and get so engrossed in them that they'll miss the game on the new plasma TV, and whither our society then...?

Granted, I'm exaggerating, and it's a symptom rather than the disease - but then, on the heels of the AP decision, comes something like this:

Trying to Save Books at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Zachary Steele, owner of Wordsmiths Books, is one of the leaders of
an effort to make the Atlanta Journal-Constitution rescind its
decision to fire book editor Teresa Weaver and cut back book coverage.

In addition, Shannon Byrne, a publicity manager of Little, Brown, is circulating a petition that
says among other things that the paper's book section is one of the
best-edited literary pages in the country.

"It provides Atlanta, which ranks #15 on the University of
Wisconsin's list of most literate cities in the U.S., with a powerful
and necessary cultural dialogue. Under the astute guidance of the
section's editor Teresa Weaver, the books page has demonstrated an
admirable commitment to both literature and nonfiction works which
have grappled with some of America's most complicated issues and themes."

In a Shelf Awareness ezine blog entry, bookstore owner Zachary Steele wrote, among other things, that
"an absence of a literary presence in the primary source of news in Atlanta robs not only you and I, but it deprives future generations the exposure to what is and always will be the most vital aspect of their maturation. A book--literacy in its global form--is a necessary
component to intellectual growth. Reading is on the rise amongst our youth (check out the great success of Decatur's Little Shop of Stories if you doubt me) and now is not the time to reduce or eliminate the one place they can go to read further."

Check out your local paper. Does it have a book page? Does it have a book page that provides more than just a stump of a review one paragraph long which pretty much encapsulates the plot of the book under discussion and no more?

I cannot imagine a world without books, without reading. But much more of this, and an entire generation will find it hard to imagine a world WITH them.

If nothing else helps, try this - why can't newspapers consider books and reading as a "Gardening" feature? The word is a tender plant, and its care should be of interest to those who wish to cultivate a flourishing garden. And there is no sweeter fruit, when it is ripe and ready, than Story.