Friday, May 04, 2007
More on books
Thanks for all your comments on my post about books. (Sorry I couldn't publish more; we received several hundred, and there's only so much time to go through them.)

Several people observed that the issue isn't so much interest in books; it's interest in newspapers. I agree, mostly. The hard-headed practical side of me knows that newspapers are a business suffering from declining circulation. As a business, newspapers can do what they want in hopes of improving their prospects, including cutting back on books coverage. There will still be plenty of that on the Web.

But the sentimentalist in me -- the side that likes newspapers and newspaper book sections -- wishes it were otherwise.

And many people wrote that they read dozens of books every year and they can't imagine life without a book (or three) by their bedside. I'm with you all the way.

Still, I worry about books anyway -- Oprah, packed bookstores and J.K. Rowling (all praise to her!) notwithstanding.

For all the titles released, for all the Web sites devoted to covering books, my perception is that books don't matter as much in our society as they once did. I could be wrong. Maybe they still DO matter -- and maybe they never did, at least to a mass audience. After all, even years ago it was always the author who got bumped from the "Tonight" show.

And should books matter in the first place? As at least one writer noted, focusing so much on books is narrow-minded in a broad-based media age. Books aren't the be-all and end-all.

But they'll continue to fill a large place in my heart. Not to mention all over the house.
I wish the current media would just put more focus on books as entertaiment. There can be just as much enjoyment derived from books as television or movies (which are often based on books). My son is 15 and while he is absolutely a movie, television and video game addict, he is also a voracious reader. He reads Harlan Coben and Robert Crais for his mysteries, Stephen King for horror, Roger Zelazny for fantasy and David Munroe for mainstream humour, just to mention a few. Books are wonderful and they will never die out.
Read your blog.
Who says that newspapers give broad coverage? Maybe in other parts of the world but not here in USA where the coverage is so narrow it squeaks.
And who says books don't give broad coverage? I'm 85 and I've been reading about the Middle East, the effects of Islam over the ages and have just received a marvelous selection of 5 volumes of Winston Churchill and I will continue to read across a wide spectrum.
Part of the problem with books generally is that children aren't encouraged to read and that includes newspapers too.
Whenever we travel, we always take books and when we get there we always buy the local paper. Borders is our favorite store. My Grandmother taught me to read and always provided books when I was young. I have passed that love of books on. I cannot imagine a life without books. By the way, my Grandmother was 103 years old when she died & still reading, large print books.
Fiction, especially novel-length fiction, is a unique medium that serves as a lens on the time in which it was created. More than any other form of written expression, fiction is able to capture the infinitely faceted condition of the who, where, how, and why of any moment. It's this ability to so effectively track our progress as a species that makes the novel worth caring about and worth ensuring that our progeny will appreciate.
The End of Literature
I agree with you completely. I worry about books as well. I've worked at a library for the past 5 years, and we get an increasing percentage of our circulation from DVDs and other media types. Books are still popular, however, most days I feel like a Blockbuster instead of a public library. It's actually rather sad.
It is a sad day when sensationalist media coverage about Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan dominates the media. We already live in a society that dwells and bases news coverage on the negative...why waste time on celebrity bullcrap that happens to thousands of REAL people across America each day?

I am only 25 but I have noticed a difference in attention span from when I was in Jr. High School until now. People want stuff instantly instead of taking the time to enjoy the finer things in life.

Personally, I've read every Harry Potter book that has come out...and from my standpoint, the books have the movies beat 10 to 1.

As with Internet communication...(ie blogs, sites, journals, etc)...everyone wants to prove themselves to someone else and in the end, it just hurts the person. Look at politics today-a few years ago you really wouldn't hear a politician directly insulting the president (I am democrat by the way).

In college I think the professors call this media concentrancy...or something along those lines. It all has to be snap too it now. Gimme, Gimme, Gimme.

I, for one, would rather lie in my bed and read Victor Hugo all day long than sat in front of a television and watch 25 minutes of commercials in an hour program.
one of the most disturbing things i ever overheard in casual conversation wa a guy declaring that "i'll never let my kid grow up to be a reader, it's so antisocial." this as we all were coming out of a mall, he and his companion, i don't know from where. i was walking out of Borders with one book i'd intended to buy, and four i hadn't. such is life. but how reading is more antisocial that zoning out on TV, or immersing yourself in an Ipod escapes me.

one of the myriad reasons i love the Daily Show, is that Jon Stewart will more frequently have an author as a guest than an actor. most of my reccomendations for nonfiction have come from his show.

and to answer one of your questions, i think books are more important than other forms of media. i think this because the act of reading actually engages a person's brain, physically, and intellectually. it does so much more fully than other forms of entertainment, or information we can amuse ourselves with. and i happen to think that the more we use our brains, the better off we all are.
I still read books... Avidly!

I read approximately a book per week. And, I don't mean romance novels either. My tastes are eclectic, and I enjoy books with good plots and characters. I also enjoy non-fiction too.
The mass media in the US shys away from novels because the media companies earn revenue from the big-budget films and TV shows. AOL Time Warner, Fox, etc. use their newspapers and news channels to hype films and TV shows as a reinforcement of advertisements. However, simply because you don't hear about books on television or the radio doesn't mean that people have stopped reading. It is more of a reflection on the corporate financial bias for the parent companies who fund the media than a mirror of our society.
Books do indeed matter. Learning to love reading at a young age fosters imagination, creativity, and the ability to learn from experiences outside our own. I wouldn't be half the person I am if my father had not put books in my hand at 3, if he had not sat and read them with me, dissected their impact on history, their impact on society and humanity at large. We forget, quite often, that our love of art, music, literature, as a people, defines how cultured we are, how much we care about the finer things in life, and how far we're willing to go to attach meaning to even the smallest flower blowing in the breeze. I agree in that books are losing the status they once had, but I have to say I blame that on the way parents raise their kids nowadays and the media itself. Just because a kid has read all 7 Harry Potters doesnt make him/her an eloquently literate child. Even the children in Shakespeares age had larger vocabularies than adults do now, if that isnt saying something, then its saying nothing at all, it ran out of words when it ran out of books to read.
Should books still matter in such a broad-based media age?>

Absolutely. If the power goes out, you can't read a website by candle-light. You can't hold a website in your hand. You don't get the same glorious smell from a computer as you do from walking into Borders and inhaling the glorious scent of new books and fresh coffee!

One of the joys in my family is pressing a book into someone's hand and saying "I just finished this, you HAVE to read it!" Christmas isn't the same without the new hardcover book under the tree, and Shakespeare just isn't the same on a computer screen
Books most definitely still matter. Without books, I doubt I would have developed my imagination or creativity. Through book reading, I've been able to create my own stories that I tell to my son. And book reading keeps the mind working and active. I cannot even imagine what life would be like without books.
The only thing that is true of all newspapers is that their audience is one of readers. The likelihood that their readers also are interested in books suggests that they are approaching things the wrong way. Rather than cut their reviews section, they should enlarge it. With more than 180,000 books published every year, finding material shouldn't be too difficult.
While I am an admitted film buff, video and pc game player I am also an avid reader. I spend more money at local books stores, Amazon, and the Science Fiction book club than I do on food in an average month. I am a firm supporter of local libraries as well, but it’s harder and harder to go there since the small braches in my city are either closing or severely limiting their hours of operation. I scout out local Friends of the Library book sales to help support libraries and get great deals on gently used books. I have younger sisters 22, 17, 14 and 10 who devour books with the greatest of enjoyment. I guess it helps when a passion for reading is supported by your parents and other family members.
I personally "rediscovered" books when I got rid of cable TV! In a previous life ;) my husband and I had all of the trappings of modern life: an HDTV, digital cable, high-speed internet, and video gaming systems. Books just didn't provide the instant satisfaction that our culture seems to insist upon. However, that instant satisfaction didn't provide long-term satisfaction, and after a divorce and a serious re-evaluation of my lifestyle, I am now with a man who's from Italy and we have a more interactive interpersonal relationship, complete with toned-down electronics package (no cable, but we do have High-speed internet at home and we have an active Netflix account!). He asked for books for Christmas by American authors (something that most Europeans don't study in school) and since I want him to truly understand my culture, I was happy to oblige. It has also inspired me to start reading again, and the simplicity that I've regained has proven a hugh stress reliever. Sitting down to read a book is SO much nicer than listening to the "clank-clank" of a video game. I wouldn't go back.
Books are so important on many levels. I read at least a few books each month (mainly non-fiction). I started reading at age 4 and by the time I was in second grade I was devouring big, fat books far ahead of my grade level in school. I have read the 1200+-page "Atlas Shrugged" five separate times. I can't imagine, nor would I want to be in, a world without books. Here's how they are different and better than TV/DVDs/other media: 1) You can take them with you anywhere; 2) They are tangible and can be marked on, have pages tagged, and can become an important reference tool; 3) They engage your mind, spirit, emotions, and physical body; 4) Because they do not provide "pre-determined" visuals and sequences, they help develop your brain and imagination; 5) In their best form, they make statements on life, issues, and eternal questions - in their worst form, they are mindless entertainment. Newspapers suffer from lack of content (stuffed in between endless pages of advertisements) and stiff competition from other news sources on the Internet and in other publications. The demise of newspapers shouldn't mean the demise of books!
There will always be a book at my bedside, I learned much of the charactor I am from the books I read; But I fear for my children, I have to trick them into reading with comic books, TV and and internet do not develop charactors as a written book. TV and internet sell stories, I enjoy web cast news, but still purchase a newspaper for local opinions and feel;
I feel for our children who are not taught to read but taught to take a test. The best classes I took we discussed books and news in an open discussion, people opinions mattered.

David J Garner.
Good comments about The Daily Show, and even Oprah (I'm a little tired of Oprah). But these popular entertainers help make reading "cool." I feel as if books have, literally, saved my life -- they can be the greatest possible escape. I read P.G. Wodehouse while growing up in a sometimes violently dysfunctional home; I read Danielle Steele when my dad was in a coma for a month. I needed the escape, and she wrote the only author I could find whose books were easy enough for me to read during that horrid time. I read mysteries and books about werewolves and vampires while I was working 16 hours a day student-teaching. Right now, I'm reading lots of different things including classics that I felt I should have gotten to but hadn't: Emma, In Cold Blood, Sound and the Fury.

Reading is irreplaceable in my life: for comfort, for fun, for keeping my brain active and growing!
Hi, Todd. Greetings from your home town of New Orleans! I'm one of your mom's neighbors, and my wife's family are long-time friends of your family. I'm also a fiction writer (humorous horror and fantasy set in New Orleans, mostly) and a lifelong passionate reader. I'm on the cusp of the Baby Boomers (born in late 1964), and I think that one huge factor which none of the commentators regarding reading's apparent decline have focused upon is the coming retirement of the largest, most highly educated population cohort this nation has ever known. I won't retire for another quarter century or so, but the leading edge Baby Boomers will be hitting their retirement years just a few years from now, and the aggregate leisure time of the American public will increase exponentially.

Will retired Baby Boomers increase their reading time substantially? Perhaps not all of them will, but I suspect that many are looking forward to that part of their life when once again (as they could during childhood and adolescence) they'll be able to immerse themselves in a good book. As my own family has grown and I've needed to work longer hours to support them, my time available for reading has withered to perhaps an hour or two per week. Whereas once (when I was single and without children) I might read three or four books a month, now I'm lucky if I get through six of them a year. My desire to read hasn't diminished -- only my available time has. One of my most cherished goals for my eventual retirement is to catch up on all the reading I've been unable to do.

Watching my own parents enter retirement, I've witnessed how they and their friends have become much more involved in their communities and in public affairs. One of the pay offs of reaching an advanced age is perspective. Perspective, combined with increased available time, often results in greater commitment to one's community and heightened curiosity about a whole range of issues and activities. I think when the Baby Boomers hit their retirement years, consumption of both nonfiction books (and newspapers and public affairs, scientific, and culturally focused magazines) and fiction will skyrocket, as this huge cohort of people seek to reconnect with aspects of their world beyond the workplace.

Call me an optimist!
Its all a matter of time, I take the subway to work.Its while commuting this way that I read. If I drove to work, I would never have time to dos so.
Todd, I'm with you. I have six children and each of them reads books as voraciously as I do. They generally have only one going at a time and I have two or three. I do not read fiction. My books, at my age, (70) usually cover the deeper meaning in life, science of the mind, the laws of the physical world, and the other set of laws of the spiritual world. Politics and the Iraq war have also become favorites. My children are into history, politics, Iraq war, and other current events.
The irony in my life is that I live next to the library in this small village and have a library card but always buy my books and do not give them away. There must be a deeper meaning in that.
I have one grandchild out of 8 who consistently reads books. The others get their info on-line.
I have reminded my children from the time they were small that you "Learn to read", and then you read to learn and I guess they listened. They are now in their 40's and 50's. VIVA La Books!!!
There is nothing like a good book! It can take your imagination to all heights. It can suck you in on the first page and keep you reading until you finish it -in one day! I cannot imagine a world without books. And, being a librarian, I see that people sometimes forget how easy it is to simply look in a phone book or check in a directory without going site by site into the Internet. The internet is great, but it has a lot of inaccurate and unreliable information.
I'm about to graduate from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television as a graduate screenwriter. Last year, former Sony head honcho Peter Guber led a class called the Poet and the Engineer, where he challenged us to merge the creative with technology. The first thing that came into my head was books. As an author, I knew that the problem wasn't that people weren't interested in reading books, but how do you efficiently find new authors and meet people with the same reading interests. The internet has been okay, but not sufficient.

So I decided to create a literary social networking site called TheYack.com. We came out in late January and were covered by Publishers Weekly. Last weekend, we exhibited for the first time at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and you should have seen how people were excited. The key, in my humble opinion, is to erase the distance between the author and the reader, and then we'll find out that not only are people interested in reading books, but they're willing to meet up on a regular basis to talk about them.
I have to admit that I do not read anymore. No books, no newspapers, and very little online. Why? I guess because reading was not enjoyable being educated in a public school system, it was a chore. Every year it was the same thing, Catcher in The Rye, Red Badge of Courage and To Kill a Mockingbird, over and over, and over again. Don't get me wrong, they are great works, but with that kind of repetition they quickly become like shampoo instructions.

Newspapers are the same way. Day after day after day, all it offers is death, murder, tradgedy, sports and weather. The names change, but the content never does. Broadcast news is the same way. Even the most entertaining events in life become mundane without any kind of creative change to mix it up a little, and let's face it, media coverage of any kind lacks entertainment value.

If you really want people to read, give them something more than they had the day, week, month, year before. And educate the educators that it doesn't have to be a timeless classic to be worth reading.

Hit yourself in the head with a hammer for a few minutes and see how long that lasts before you realize there is no benefit to the pain and simply stop.
I belong to 2 book clubs and most people I know read for fun. I put so many books on hold at the library everyone knows my name

Indiana Reader
From Bill in Atlantic Beach:

To be realistically a part of a demographic look at who responds to this article, I will reveal that I am 44, Male, and was raised in the northeast. Reading has and will always be, a big part of my life. I absolutely love the act of data input via reading, preferrably a book. I do read tons in digital format, cannot escape it. I work in the world of automated electronics,robotics and computer driven machines. Technical reading, usually at a frantic pace in the process of troubleshooting why the D$*&%$ Robot is not acting in the intended fashion. But when given the choice and the time I prefer novels, action adventure,Anything about history, science fiction,and love biographies. I have to say that through many encounters with younger generation members of the workforce,reading and comprehension are not at the forefront of thier skill-sets. I know it is not statistically accurate to view a large number of any generation by the small sub-set of individuals I have encountered, but that has been my observation. They prefer movies to the written word. My personal opinion [what's the old addage, we all have one] is that through reading we force certain brain activity to occur, create certain pathways that promote cognitve growth,and use of the imagination, making the brain fill in the blanks where video games and movies cannot. Not only is it a more fullfilling activity, but better for you. reading will help you in ways that benefit your career, vocabulary, comprehension of written words in other formats and overall literacy. even spelling. Don't judge by me though, I love spell check.....

My better half belongs to Bookcrossing.com
Free books people..!!
Give it a try
American society has become aliterate. People simply choose not to read and they who do not read miss a great deal. I for one read at least 300 books a year and I know that I'm in the minority, but I would not change my knowledge of the literary greats and not so greats for anything produced in Hollywood. Read and Think. Don't Watch and Mimic.
I'm with you, Todd! Books are one of my absolute favorite things on earth and always will be, even as I embrace other media. My infant son also will learn to love books and already we enjoy "reading" to him.
I think as long as there are readers, there will be books, and it's up to us to pass on our love of the medium!
I know I am late in posting but here is my two cents anyway. I am a baby boomer who went back to school at the tender age of 50. I will graduate in 14 days (but who is counting) and have circled on my calendar the day that I can finally go to the library and get books I want to read! Don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed (to a point) the books I have read for research purposes but I just want to read something that will not have to be quoted, footnoted or cited! I can't wait.
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