Last month, a woman I’ve known for 10 years threw out a sentence that knocked me right off my literary high horse : I don’t read, she said. In fact, I haven’t read a novel since high school. We’d been on our way out to dinner when I mentioned I’d gotten Alexandra Styron’s memoir in the mail and couldn’t wait to get home to start reading it. It’s about growing up as William Styron’s daughter. And Styron is my hero, I’d said, only to get the response: I don’t know who William Styron is. Is he an athlete?
How can you be a 60 year old, professional woman, a leader in your field, and not read?
Of course, I’ve heard the likes of this before. A professor friend asked his American Lit class, by way of introductions, to go around the room and talk about the best book they’d read over the summer. They were stumped; they hadn’t read a thing. But you’re English majors! he said. An old friend heard I’d written a short story and asked me to send it to her, only to fire a note back saying, That’s not short. That’s 20 pages long! My own sister-in-law once informed me she’d never made it more than a few pages into any book. Why would you spend days and days reading a book when you can watch a whole movie in two hours?
Looking back on it, the month of May was a literary blur for me. I didn’t do so well with the reading myself. I started no less than 25 books and couldn’t close the deal on most of them. It was hard for me to settle in with a good story and finish it. And it seemed like nonreaders — like those mentioned above — were coming out of the woodwork. It made me wonder: are we nose-in-a-book folks really that far buried in our libraries that we can’t see the other side? This article from The Economist titled IN DEFENSE OF NOT READING offers this take on nonreaders: Any educated American has already read enough books. Everything else you read is gravy, and hitching your wagon to the so-called dumbing down of society argument merely lends your voice to the shrill chorus of others throughout history who thought they were smarter than everybody else.
I don’t buy the argument, but I thought about it as I watched a replay of Sarah Palin’s Paul Revere gaffe in Boston yesterday. I’m no Sarah Palin fan, and I’ve been known to use the words “dumbing down” while talking about her. She has no business in national politics; she can barely string a coherent sentence together. But after watching this 30 second clip a few times, I felt sorry for her. Then I suddenly realized that all I could remember about Paul Revere was The British are coming! The British are coming! and I panicked. I found myself Googling him and quick-reading his Wikipedia page.
Looks like Sarah and I could both use a little more gravy.