The protracted death rattle of books and reading

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More gloomy news from the intensive-care bedside of the book, where it appears last rites may soon be in order — again.

As the article in the Dec. 24, 2007, New Yorker puts it, we may be slipping into an age when reading becomes an “increasingly arcane hobby.”

“Twilight of the Books,” written by Caleb Crain, contains a number of interesting and gloomy figures.

…In 1982, 56.9 per cent of Americans had read a work of creative literature in the previous twelve months. The proportion fell to fifty-four per cent in 1992, and to 46.7 per cent in 2002.

…More alarming are indications that Americans are losing not just the will to read but even the ability….

…Between 1982 and 2002, the percentage of Americans who read literature declined not only in every age group but in every generation-even in those moving from youth into middle age, which is often considered the most fertile time of life for reading. We are reading less as we age, and we are reading less than people who were our age ten or twenty years ago….

…Some sociologists 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….

Crain notes that “the Internet, happily, does not so far seem to be antagonistic to literacy,” although that could change “if the Internet continues its YouTube-fuelled evolution away from print and toward television.

Perhaps not the cheeriest note on which to end the year. Quick! Slip another book — or three, or 10 — under the tree.

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