Mr. Hamm and Mr. Booth or anyone else interested,
Have you read An Experiment in Criticism? It's a slightly more rigorous (and shorter) form of the argument in Alan Jacobs' The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, namely, that the main purpose of reading is to give the reader joy and pleasure.
But, assuming that we live in a world with an objective reality, there are still objective standards that relate even to pleasure. Lewis turns the critic's argument about literary books and nonliterary books on its head. Instead, for the sake of the experiment/argument, he suggests that there are literary readers and nonliterary readers (not that the same reader can't do both kinds of reading). The above quote of Lewis that I referred to earlier is a necessary presupposition to his argument (i.e., that being a literary or nonliterary reader says nothing about one's moral character or value as a person).
The first argument in the book that Lewis makes (that there is, in fact, a difference between literary reading and nonliterary reading) is, as far as I can tell, both logically unassailable and useful. There are, of course, further arguments that follow directly on point to this entire thread.
It's on my list, but I've got about a hundred WWII-era-and-after books [and criticism thereof] ahead of it. The distinction reminds me of Thomas Roberts' An Aesthetics of Junk Fiction, which makes a couple of suppositions: [a] that there is a difference between "literary" and "non-literary" reading, [b] that most people do both, and [c] that the aesthetics of "non-literary" reading partake of the aesthetics of the scholar when s/he reads criticism. Also, [d] that one isn't more valuable than the other--they serve different ends and shouldn't be evaluated comparatively.
Which is to say, I agree that there's a difference between "literary" and "non-literary" reading, and the distinction quite usefully shifts attention onto the activity of reading, rather than the object read. I can get behind that.
[It also throws a twist into the topic of this thread: the problem ceases to be whether people are reading literature--whatever that is--but whether they are literary readers. Of course, [a] such a proposition is difficult to prove one way or the other, and [b] the likelihood is high that, even in eras with high literacy, the number of folks who were "literary readers" is probably very small. Most people just don't care, and have never cared, about reading in the way literature people care about it. And that makes worrying about the "decline" of literary reading a bit puzzling]
Edited by NBooth, 30 April 2014 - 09:35 AM.