Quickly: Reading Is Up, the Newbery Is Bad, the Bushes Are Reading and Writing
Posted by: Keir Graff
Still catching up with my blogging backlog. Bloglog? Backblog? First the current stuff…
The good news: the NEA believes that, for the first time in a quarter century, grown-ups are reading more fiction than they used to (“Fiction Reading Increases for Adults,” by Motoko Rich, New York Times).
“There has been a measurable cultural change in society’s commitment to literary reading,” said Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “In a cultural moment when we are hearing nothing but bad news, we have reassuring evidence that the dumbing down of our culture is not inevitable.”
The bad news: average readers’ statistics may have been skewed by one woman, the indefatigable Sarah Weinman, who read 462 books last year (“How to read 462 books in one year,” Jacket Copy, Los Angeles Times):
So what happens when I read is that I can “hear” the narrative and dialogue in my head, but what’s odd is that I’m both aware of the book at, say, an LP rate (33 1/3 revolutions per minute) but in my head it translates to roughly a 78. I’ve tried to slow this down, but realized that my natural reading rhythm is freakishly fast when an author friend asked me to go through the manuscript of her soon-to-be-published book for continuity errors. I sat in the La-Z-Boy at my parents’ house with a pencil, went through page by page making notes but also enjoying the book, and had the whole task done in about 3-4 hours. This was a 350-page manuscript too, so roughly 80,000 words. Take away the pencil and the editor’s hat and the reading speed would probably be close to 90 minutes.
Now the blogback…
It’s still open season on the Newbery Award (“Blacks, Hispanics Are Rare Heroes With Newbery Kids Books Medal,” by Melita Marie Garza, Bloomberg).
“Maybe the ALA should just describe the Newbery Award as ‘awarded to the writer of the best book about white, two-parent households,’” said Julia Alvarez, a Dominican-American and a writer-in-residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.
Following Karl Rove’s astonishing revelation that our outgoing president is, in fact, a voracious reader (“Bush Is a Book Lover,” Wall Street Journal), Richard Cohen analyzes George Bush’s reading list (“Reading Into Bush’s Book List,” Washington Post):
It is awfully late in the day for Rove — and, presumably, Bush — to assert the president’s intellectual bona fides. Now feeling the hot breath of history, they are dropping the good ol’ boy persona and picking up the ol’ bifocals one. But the books themselves reveal — actually, confirm — something about Bush that maybe Rove did not intend. They are not the reading of a widely read man, but instead the books of a man who seeks — and sees — vindication in every page. Bush has always been the captive of fixed ideas. His books just support that.
Come to think of it, maybe the nation’s improved reading scores can be attributed to the combined efforts of Ms. Weinman, Mr. Bush, and Mr. Rove. Before long, however, we’ll be talking not about what George Bush has been reading, but about what Laura Bush has written (“Scribner Signs Laura Bush Memoir,” Publishers Weekly). Look for paperback sales of Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife to pick up in 2010.
Update: Stop the presses! Not to be outdone by Mrs. Bush, Mr. Bush will be writing a book, too. (He’s “not quite exactly sure what it’s gonna be.”)