(Jackson Street) Books on 7th is around the corner and on the internet tubes. We strive to be your full-service new and used bookstore, emphasizing good literature, progressive politics, and, of course, books about baseball. Opened in Hoquiam October 1, 2010

Monday, November 19, 2007

Reading for Pleasure…or Not

The New York Times reported today on a new study released by the National Endowment for the Arts that found, among other things, “…fewer than half of Americans over 18 read novels, short stories, plays or poetry…” The usual suspects are trotted out: books compete with the visual diversions, movies, tv, video games and the like. Poverty is probably an issue as well. The study also points to the flatness or decline in reading scores among students, and income level for adults. The more one reads the better the scores (including tests in Math and Science); the more one reads the more income one makes. Except in my case.
Of course, this study is of some concern to me inasmuch as I depend on a literate public to make my living. I’m fortunate that my customers are literate and I can conduct good conversations with them. I’d like to continue to do so.
I can’t be sure and I have no proof, but I think that there is a current group of young people who are growing up illiterate. Somehow the get by in school with the rudiments of reading ability and street smarts. But because they have been failed on some way early on, and not taught properly how to read, never discover the pleasures of the printed narrative. Or feel the tactile satisfaction of holding a book in one’s hands.
There is an elderly man who brings me the weekly local neighborhood paper. He told me some time ago, with great pride, that he was taking reading classes at the Goodwill. It’s never too late.

3 comments:

Dave von Ebers said...

Wow, Dan … this really strikes a chord with me.

I was a history major in college, with enough English credits to earn a double-major, and when I went to law school I was surrounded, primarily, by kids with business degrees. Worse, when I started interviewing for jobs with big Chicago law firms, I was a complete anomaly among all the squeaky-clean, natty yuppie-wannabes who applied for summer internships. They were all from wealthy families with business ties; I was the son of teachers, a history and English major, who’d worked the previous summer for legal aid on the West Side of Chicago. They belonged to country clubs and networked with all the other yuppie junior executives in their free time; I sat around in bars and talked with my friends about books and politics and rock music.

But the funniest thing happened when I was interviewing for summer associate positions my second year in law school. I found out that despite my utter lack of confidence and my firm commitment to outsider-hood, I could actually talk to people about interesting stuff. I went on these day-long interviews at big downtown law firms, and you know what? All those successful big-city lawyers were well rounded people who read books and were interested in real things – not just business, but the arts, history, politics, all that good stuff. Between knowing a thing or two about Shakespeare and James Joyce and having worked at legal aid the prior summer, I was able to connect with these people with whom I had absolutely nothing in common. And I got job offers from nearly every firm I interviewed with.

You know, had I not read books ’n stuff, had I gotten a business degree instead of a liberal arts degree, I think I would have been just another nervous, geeky kid with nothing whatsoever to say … and I never would have gotten my foot in the door.

Or, maybe it’s just because I can BS better than anyone I know.

Still, I’ll take my chances reading books, y’ know?

SeattleDan said...

I've met a few professionals, doctors, lawyers, who also majored in History or English, and they've always been the most interesting in their tribe. I think good law/medical schools are always looking for students with those kind of backgrounds, as they appreciate the "humanistic" aspects of those students.

Years ago, Dave, I was talking to a young lawyer. At the time I was thinking of going into the Law. He told me, and I recognize it now as great advice, that he wished he had majored in English. So much of what lawyers do involves persuasion, and knowing good literature adds so much to that mission.

Anonymous said...

It also helps a great deal when a lawyer actually knows what the hell the words can legitimately mean, at least so long as we continue to value the rule of law.

Anonymous David