what if everyone read one of four books?

The Institute of Museum and Library Services and the National Endowment for the Arts are getting together to correct the allegeddramatic decline in literary reading” with a program called The Big Read. I’m sure librarians won’t mind getting some grant money, but can we admit that the decline in literary reading isn’t the same as a decline in reading, or book buying, or library attendance?

7 thoughts on “what if everyone read one of four books?

  1. I’m perfectly okay with saying the whole report was bogus. Their definition of literary was “fiction.” Any kind of fiction. But then in their survey they asked about novels. A lot of people who read fiction wouldn’t necessarily say they read novels. (And of course lots of readers of non-fiction were shut out, too.) It seemed like an agenda in search of evidence. WMDs, so to speak, with a deliberate echo of the Reagan-era Nation at Risk that has brought us so much wonderful school reform. There’s a good critique of the NEA study – and lots of evidence reading is alive and well – in Reading Matters: What the Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries, and Community published this year. It’s a good read, this one. Something anyone who cares about reading – or libraries, or community – should read.

    I’m glad that the NEA and IMLS are noticing the common reading explosion, but they sure make it sound like an “eat your vegetables” chore – and their claim that this will be the biggest of community reads is pretty arrogant considering how late they’re coming to the party.

  2. “America can no longer take active and engaged literacy for granted,” according to Gioia. “As more Americans lose this capability, our nation becomes less informed, active, and independent minded. These are not qualities that a free, innovative, or productive society can afford to lose.”

    I must now admit that I am one of these uninformed, inactive drones; I haven’t read a novel in 4-5 months (short fiction and poetry, on the other hand) even though I read nonfiction–from books–for 1-3 hours a day. And then there’s Internet reading.

    The definition of “literary reading” used in the report is also suspect. There are many efinitions of what is “literary,” and I’m not certain which version they’re trying to study. If the initiative is to inculcate a love of reading fiction of literary quality, well…I sincerely doubt that nearly half of the populace regularly read “literature” at ANY point in American history. And the definition of quality is always suspect. If the study and its reparations are to focus on bringing readers to read any fiction, I’m amused that the initial four works have been chosen from the curricula of high school English classes, and all are from the early-to-mid twentieth century. I suppose familiarity was a key factor in the decisions.

  3. Interesting that IMLS a) generated a crisis and b) funded itself to resolve same crisis. Nice work if you can get it!

  4. 3 thoughts.

    1) Why not include some contemporary literature? Are people reading The Great Gatsby less now than they did a generation or two ago? Probably. So what? “The Great Books” seems like the worst possible place to start something like this, since most people who are already readers have already read those books, and they’re more likely to intimidate a non-reader than something more contemporary.

    2) Maybe they were just jumping on the “community reads” bandwagons. Atlanta just launched one, DC has been trying it for awhile, I’m sure other communities are doing the same thing.

    3) I do think the idea of a whole community — even one as large as the US — having a common allusionary base is very cool. We have TV, but something more literary is a fun idea.

  5. Just went and looked at pub dates. TKaM is the most current, published in 1960. 46 years ago! GG was published in 1925 – 86 years ago.

    The level of “out of touchness” the book selection demonstrates just blows my mind. Surely there is something that was published in the last 10 years that qualifies as a literary read. Or hell, even in the last 25 years.

    I love librarians, but I love the ones hidden away from all things in the real world least.

  6. But y’all are missing the point. Reading is GOOD for you, it’s not supposed to fun or anything.

    If you want to see what communities are reading (for fun!), check out LC’s One Book page. Or if you want think about it as a trans-national phenomenon, take a look at the Beyond the Book project.

    And if you’re at a college or university that has a common reading program, and you’re not on my list, drop me a line and I’ll add be happy to add it.

  7. the CBC appear in Canada tries this every year or so. They throw together a short list of a dozen or so novels [seems to be always the same from year to year]. Then a panel of suppose it experts try to convince us that Canada should read their book their championing. Every week a Survivor like illumination takes place. Besides being an easy marketing ploy for bookstores I’m not sure what good it’s done.

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