Saturday, September 28, 2013

We Are The Lowbrow Nation

The National Endowment for the Arts is alarmed. The United States is become a nation of knuckle-dragging Philistines. Lowbrow, non-intellectual Neanderthals whose minds are going mushy.

We do not read "Literature" any more.

Some of us do, of course. Some of us even write "Literature" and sell it to our fellows in the culturati, but there apparently are fewer of us.

Among adults, the number who read a novel in the past year has dropped from the year before. Only 46.9% of  American adults read a book that they did not have to read for work. That they read for entertainment. Less than half.

The numbers for poetry reading sank as well, and those numbers were already low. Of course, if you compare the poetry of Byron or Keats to the stuff that's being written now, it's understandable. Modern writing just doesn't reach the average person who did not major in English or obtain an MFA from a prestigious institution.

Looks like a work of non-fiction in his hands
People are still reading, but not as much, and not just fiction. Overall, just over half of all adults read something, but that something is increasingly becoming a work of non-fiction. The trend is especially true in men, but there is a tendency among the male of the species to use books as a way to learn something. The average guy is more likely to pick up a manual on plumbing repairs than a novel about family dysfunction because he has a leaking faucet to deal with and a book about heartbreak isn't going to stop that leak.

The NEA, which depends on taxpayer support to keep going, would like to figure out how to make their little bureacracy more relevant so that the taxpayers don't start demanding that their funding gets cut because the NEA is a pure waste of money. But how can some government agency encourage people to read for fun?

Look at the disaster that has been the government's efforts to get kids to eat wholesome foods in their school lunches. Little wonder that the First Lady is veering off onto a new campaign to encourage everyone to drink more water. Whether or not she can convince anyone to do something as easy as that is another matter, and the NEA faces the same difficulty.

How can they make people believe that modern writers are creating works worth reading? With most people totally occupied at earning enough to keep a roof overhead and food on the table, how can the NEA promote an activity that takes up time we don't have?

Not everyone has access to a public library where they can get books for free, either. The cost of a book, even an e-book downloadable to a smart phone, can be prohibitive when more than half the population is scratching for loose change to pay a utility bill. Books become a luxury, like going to see a movie, and Hollywood can tell you that movie attendance is down from where it once was when times were good and money was available.

So, break out, America. Read a novel. Download one or all four of these novels from Newcastlewest Books, and re-discover the cheap vacation that you can enjoy by getting lost in a book about a different time and a different place and a different set of conflicts to be resolved.

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