Twilight of the Books (Crain)

Crain, C. (2007, Dec. 24). Twilight of the books : what will life be like if people stop reading? In The New Yorker. Retrieved from
http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2007/12/24/071224crat_atlarge_crain/

In this article, Crain ponders the results from the recent N.E.A. report To Read or Not to Read “which showed correlations between the decline of readingand social phenomena as diverse as income disparity, exercise and voting” (p.1). He adds statistics from a number of other efforts to gauge people’s levels of reading ability and frequency (mainly in the U.S.), all of which indicate a decline in the reading of books. He also mentions research in the Netherlands, where having research participants keep time-budget diaries has shown that the time people spend reading is decreasing while the time spent watching television is still on the rise. Differences are clearly generational — whereas older generations tended to read more as they aged, this is no longer the case.

Crain referes to “some sociologists [ who ] speculate that reading books for pleasure will one day be the province of a special ‘reading class,’ much as it was before the arrival of mass literacy, in the second half of the nineteenth century. They warn that it probably won’t regain the prestige of exclusivity; it may just become ‘an increasingly arcane hobby” (p.4).

This topic is one that easily riles people at dinner tables and in university settings. For the most part, aside from the self-imposed devil’s advocate, in my experience everyone tends to have the same general position – a nostalgic longing for reading books and an aversion to the idea of reading from an electronic book tablet. But then again, I have not tried having this discussion with a group of nineteen-year-olds, and I do tend to spend time with people who could be described as ‘bookish’. My main confrontation is with myself. I feel that I am perfectly wedged in both the older and the newer generation. My reading hey-dey was in my pre-teen youth, and I am extremely nostlagic about that time, about the ability to focus and delve deeply into a book to the point of total absorption. These days, I tend to acquire masses of books that interest me, but more often than not leave them behind in favour of the television (more often than not for the mindless stuff, not for the infrequent quality programming that I acknowledge exists) or short, summary online articles (i.e. reading this article instead of the articles and books it references). I wonder if the people in these surveys share my longing for books, feel torn at all, or regret the amount of television they watch. (Where is that survey?)

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One response to “Twilight of the Books (Crain)

  1. I think that reading books for pleasure will become an arcane hobby. But, there will be other forms of reading for pleasure, reading on the web for example.
    It is clear that reading for pleasure is different from reading to find facts or understand some topic. But, how is reading for pleasure on a Facebook page or reading text messages different from reading Dickens? Dickens is an arcane pleasure already, and connects us with a representation of the world that is engaging and stimulating, but it does not change one’s social life or enhance one’s connection with an online social network, which Facebook might do.

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