If you were not aware, the Patriot Act gives federal agents the right to search your library records. The ALA would like to do something about that. If you are interesting in seeing section 215 of the Patriot Act amended, visit the Campaign for Reader Privacy.
Then again, maybe the government need not worry that we’re reading subversive material. A recent survey, “Reading at Risk,” found that “fewer than half of Americans over 18 now read novels, short stories, plays or poetry; that the consumer pool for books of all kinds has diminished; and that the pace at which the nation is losing readers, especially young readers, is quickening.” This may not be a surprise to many teachers. Should we be alarmed by this? Since it impacts my livelihood, I have to say yes, but I know not everyone might agree. “In fact, the study has already produced conflicting reactions.” From an article in the New York Times:
“It’s not just unfortunate, it’s real cause for concern,” said James Shapiro, a professor of English at Columbia University. “A culture gets what it pays for, and if we think democracy depends on people who read, write, think and reflect — which is what literature advances — then we have to invest in what it takes to promote that.”
On the other hand Kevin Starr, librarian emeritus for the state of California and a professor of history at the University of Southern California, said that if close to 50 percent of Americans are reading literature, “that’s not bad, actually.”
“In an age where there’s no canon, where there are so many other forms of information, and where we’re returning to medieval-like oral culture based on television,” he said, “I think that’s pretty impressive, quite frankly.” Mr. Starr continued: “We should be alarmed, I suppose, but the horse has long since run out of the barn. There are two distinct cultures that have evolved, and by far the smaller is the one that’s tied up with book and high culture. You can get through American life and be very successful without anybody ever asking you whether Shylock is an anti-Semitic character or whether ‘Death in Venice’ is better than ‘The Magic Mountain.'”
You can read the entire article here (free registration required): http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/08/books/08READ.html. I know registering is a pain, but I really think you should read the article if this issue concerns you. If you are no longer able to access the article for free, please let me know.
Andrew Solomon wrote an excellent editorial explaining why reading and literature are vital, but the New York Times will not allow you to view it for free. However, you are fortunate that I found Roger Darlington was good enough to reproduce it in his weblog. Please visit his blog, read the editorial, and thank him for reproducing such an important piece of writing.