John Freeman, president of the National Book Critics’ Circle, writes a screed complaining that Americans don’t read and it’s all Ronald Reagan’s fault. Land of the Book-Free: America’s obsession with making money is turning reading into a minority interest in the US.
Last week I spent 22 hours in Las Vegas. It’s amazing what blossoms in the desert when irrigated by cash: acres of smooth asphalt; a replica of Manhattan with a roller coaster threading through it. Good luck finding a book, though.
The experience apparently overwhelmed him.
Of course, the point of Vegas is not to read, but there is something spooky about a town without books, let alone newspapers. Just before we left town, my friend and I stumbled upon a couple quietly reading The Wall Street Journal. “Where did you get that?” we gasped.
Ahh, what an opportunity for a Friday snark. Always a great way to start the weekend. I’m concerned about education, and want people to read lots of books, but this article is simply ridiculous.
Problem one with Freeman’s premise: if you’re going to set up a strawman, pick one that’s not pathetically easy to mock. “I went to Barnum’s Clown College last week. And amid all the red noses and giant shoes, could I find a single Oxford English Dictionary?” Or “Yesterday I drove across Kansas. But when I stumbled off the highway into those vast fields of wheat, I found not one copy of Kerouac’s On the Road. America is a wasteland.”
Problem two: he misinterprets the survey upon which his entire article is premised. He states, “[A] study has put a figure on the decline of reading in the US. One in four Americans read no books last year. Nothing. Not even the Bible.” But the study he cites does not mention a decline in reading. It doesn’t compare present reading rates with past rates at all. That’s just Freeman’s anxiety speaking. The study shows that 75% of Americans read books for pleasure. But to him that’s a “minority”. So maybe it’s not his anxiety speaking – maybe he’s just innumerate.
He blames the “Republican revolution” for its “full-scale assault on public welfare programming.” I’m not a Republican, but… yawn. He also blames capitalism and the Internet for the decline in book review pages in newspapers. And wonders when “we” will find the guts to do something drastic.
Now that cigarettes are becoming less and less palatable in an actor’s hand, put a book there. If the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] wants people to read, strong-arm a copy of William Carlos Williams’ The Doctor Stories onto Grey’s Anatomy.
Well, I want people to read. I want people to read my books. In fact, I insist the nation read my entire ouvre. Why don’t I seize power and strong-arm the producers of 24 into placing copies of Jericho Point on all the desks at CTU? What’s that, you say? Cultural imperialism? No, couldn’t possibly be. As Freeman concludes,
This may sound crass and ridiculous, but so is America.
See, we’re surrounded by philistines! Something must be done. Our tastes shall be imposed. Our jobs preserved. The command economy instituted…
I guess I’m just shocked to see a self-appointed shepherd of high culture regard his fellow citizens with quite such open contempt.
Final problem with Freeman’s book-free Las Vegas story? I Googled “bookstores las vegas” and in 45 seconds found the Yellow Pages listings for 110 bookstores in the Vegas metropolitan area.