The Imagine Conservative has an interesting article up about the death of reading in America today. With more access to books than ever before it seems likely that the ability to read, especially things of depth, is declining. Can anything be done to reverse this depressing trend? Are we all doomed? Maybe would should look forward to the EMP and a return to analog and paper?
Never has the stock market soared higher nor the supply of affordable books been cheaper. Lucky or cursed, let us examine the latter–about which T.S. Eliot asks a great question but falls short in his reply.
I confess, I adore them. I thrill to their touch; my heart is aroused by their scent. If old and forgotten, leather-bound and time-worn, books whisper all the more seductively; offering to share ancient secrets unknown to other living souls. They conspire to delight me; and I could no more write in one than scar the face of a mortal lover. If asked to choose between books and oxygen, I would select the latter only to enjoy a few more lingering moments with the former.
Books were once expensive. In Samuel Johnson’s day, just one cost as much as a labourer’s entire weekly pay of nine shillings; while the modern equivalent, $600, buys about seventy-five non-fiction paperbacks averaging seven dollars each. Yet, not only because there were fewer pastimes did people sacrifice to buy books: There was a thirst. Throughout 1776, one in five colonial families bought Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, which cost them as much as a mid-range laptop today. Presumably, each copy was read by every adult in the family, as well as by friends and neighbors.
Paine’s book sales, adjusted for today’s larger population, add up to sixty million copies. What he sold, in only one year, equalled what took eight years for Dan Brown’s comparatively cheaper The Da Vinci Code. But Paine’s publishing success cannot be replicated: Experts believe that only thirteen per cent of modern Americans can read with sufficient fluency to understand Paine’s book. If today’s dire literacy estimates are correct—and each copy of Paine’s tome passed through only four pairs of hands—the percentage of highly literate colonists must have been about seven times larger than that of us.