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Literary Reading in Decline


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#1 (unregistered)

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 10:35 PM

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#2 Darrel Manson

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 11:18 PM

QUOTE (Alan Thomas @ Jul 9 2004, 08:34 PM)
My recommendation? Kill your TV (or at least sedate it).

Does that include my DVD player? SHOCKED.gif

#3 Darrel Manson

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 11:22 PM

But then I'd lose Sundance and IFC

#4 Clint M

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Posted 10 July 2004 - 10:10 PM

QUOTE (Darrel Manson @ Jul 10 2004, 12:21 AM)
But then I'd lose Sundance and IFC

Then program it for just those two channels. wink.gif

Alan, this doesn't surprise me (being in the 18-30something age group) - I had friends in college who said that they would only read books/articles if they had to for class. It was pretty pitiful.

#5 Overstreet

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Posted 13 July 2004 - 02:10 PM


In 20 minutes, I'll have round two of my interview with Dana Gioia. (Round One was last week.)

Anybody have a burning question related to this topic?

(I'll only have 15 minutes, but I'm open to ideas.)

#6 Russell Lucas (unregistered)

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Posted 13 July 2004 - 02:30 PM

It's weird-- at the same time access to books of all kinds is better than ever before, they go unread more than ever.

#7 Jeff Kolb

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Posted 13 July 2004 - 02:53 PM

Actually, I've heard that library use is up around the country and around the world. This is due in part to internet access, but surely it must extend beyond that.

#8 Mark

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Posted 13 July 2004 - 02:58 PM

QUOTE (Clint M @ Jul 10 2004, 10:09 PM)
I had friends in college who said that they would only read books/articles if they had to for class.  It was pretty pitiful.

Video killed the library star? sad.gif

One of my nieces, a communications major at the University of Miami, was harassing me last summer for reading a book at the beach. She's a smart kid, but says she only reads assigned stuff for school, and even then hates it. blink.gif



#9 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 11 March 2011 - 09:42 PM

It's weird-- at the same time access to books of all kinds is better than ever before, they go unread more than ever.

One of my nieces, a communications major at the University of Miami, was harassing me last summer for reading a book at the beach. She's a smart kid, but says she only reads assigned stuff for school, and even then hates it.

I was looking for a place to post this, and I think I'll put it here. I blame the decline of literary reading among Americans on most of the poorly written crap people are told to read these days. I hated most of the books I was assigned in my English and Literature classes in college. Not only that, but we also even occasionally decide to make poorly written versions of the classics ... and once you take the beauty out of a perfectly written work, well ...

... cultural abuse of great literature goes beyond the elimination of so called offensive language in American classics and extends beyond the university. These days one can find Shakespeare’s plays written in contemporary English because, according to the dumber downers, Shakespeare’s syntax, word selection, and blank verse are hard for youngsters to understand. Funny, during my school days teachers and students read the plays together, and my teachers did a good job teaching students how to read and understand Elizabethan English. Furthermore, we memorized famous passages like Marc Antony’s funeral oration in Julius Caesar (“Friends, Romans, countrymen…”) and Macbeth’s reaction to Lady Macbeth’s death (“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day…” etc.).

Then we have the egregious abuses of English as represented in dumbed down English translations of the Bible. Of all the English translations of the Bible, none approaches the Authorized Version (The King James Version) for the beauty of its poetry and its timeless ability to remain in one’s consciousness. When I was a child learning the Bible in my Methodist Sunday school and church liturgy, the King James Bible was the Bible I heard and I still remember its marvelous verses: “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” now dumbed down to “Let the children come to me” or “How can this be since I know not a man” now rendered as the incredibly clumsy “How can this be since I have not had relations with a man?” or “Whom God has joined together let no man put asunder,” which is now the wretchedly inclusive “Whom God has joined together human beings cannot separate.”

The worst English biblical translations occur in my Catholic Church in the tone deaf New American Bible, which, among other atrocities, renders St. Paul’s “I have fought the good fight” to the embarrassingly inaccurate “I have competed well.” Hearing that at Mass is like hearing long fingernails scrape across a chalkboard. And speaking of the Mass, the dumber downers have worked overtime there. Before Vatican II Catholics all over the world heard the beautiful Latin Tridentine or Pius V Mass at worship. Now they celebrate in the vernacular with hootenanny hymns and mistranslations of Pope Paul VI’s Novus Ordo Mass. Dumber downer translators and their advocates defend the new translations because the older ones are hard to understand. In other words people are too stupid or too unteachable to learn ...

- Phillip J. Chesser, Dumbing Down Classic Literature

#10 Ryan H.

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Posted 12 March 2011 - 07:01 AM

I hated most of the books I was assigned in my English and Literature classes in college.

What did you read in your English and Literature classes in college?

#11 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 12 March 2011 - 12:16 PM

I hated most of the books I was assigned in my English and Literature classes in college.

What did you read in your English and Literature classes in college?

Pamela by Samuel Richardson, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, The Golden Bowl by Henry James, Island by Aldous Huxley, White Noise by Don DeLillo, The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans, Innocent Blood by P.D. James

Granted, I did go to a junior community college for a two years. But even afterwards, it still seemed like my professors were deliberately trying to assign books for class precisely in order to completely destroy my love for reading. I've complained that I had bad English/Lit professors, but then I've talked to other friends who got stuck reading Theodore Dreiser, Gore Vidal, and Dan Brown (yes, that's correct, some college English classes now read Dan Brown).

#12 Ryan H.

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Posted 12 March 2011 - 12:51 PM


I hated most of the books I was assigned in my English and Literature classes in college.

What did you read in your English and Literature classes in college?

Pamela by Samuel Richardson, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, The Golden Bowl by Henry James, Island by Aldous Huxley, White Noise by Don DeLillo, The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans, Innocent Blood by P.D. James

Well, I've read none of those, so I can't comment (though I do love other works by some of these authors, ala Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD).

But even afterwards, it still seemed like my professors were deliberately trying to assign books for class precisely in order to completely destroy my love for reading. I've complained that I had bad English/Lit professors, but then I've talked to other friends who got stuck reading Theodore Dreiser, Gore Vidal, and Dan Brown (yes, that's correct, some college English classes now read Dan Brown).

Well, the names Dreiser and Vidal don't exactly make me shudder in horror. Brown, however...

#13 Christian

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Posted 12 March 2011 - 06:43 PM

My Contemporary American Lit class in college -- I THINK that's what it was called; funny that I can't remember it -- had a hugely POSITIVE impact on my love of reading. I don't remember liking anything I was assigned to read in high school beyond tenth grade, so I was at a low point by college. Then I read Tim O'Brien and Raymond Carver, and I was a gushing fanboy (can fans of serious lit be considered "fanboys"? Probably.) Was favorable toward Ann Beattie and Bahrati Mukerji (sp?), but didn't continue to read them after college. John Wideman didn't take either. But those other writers excited me, when I needed some literary excitement.

#14 Ryan H.

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Posted 12 March 2011 - 09:32 PM

Oh, my Contemporary American Lit class (actually called American Literature: Modernism and Beyond) definitely had a very positive influence on me, too. Truth be told, I had a good time with the majority of my lit courses.

#15 Nathaniel

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Posted 13 March 2011 - 01:28 AM

In my experience, the most loved books are the ones that you come to on your own. There's something deeply rewarding about "discovering" an author you've never heard of before. It's like finding gold. On the other hand, if I hadn't been force fed Steinbeck and Hemingway in high school, I wouldn't have enjoyed Cannery Row and The Old Man and the Sea, and therefore wouldn't have been compelled to seek out Miss Lonelyhearts and Winesburg, Ohio on my own. (But I'm sure glad I did!) I guess one thing leads to another. If you start out reading Tolkien or Lewis, as many young readers do, you may well find yourself moving on to Charles Williams, the most intense and eccentric of the Inklings.

I tend to read far more short stories than novels, so I discovered some of my favorite authors in anthologies. I think that's how I first came across M.R. James, which sparked an interest in English ghost stories and "weird tales" that's still going strong. Odds are an anthology will have at least one story that leaves you wanting more from that author. To that end, The Best American Short Stories might be a good place to start.

Another thing I like doing (and I'll probably come off like an uber nerd here) is looking into literary criticism. Reading people write persuasively about books they love can be inspiring. Try picking up Harold Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human and see if you don't get jazzed about Shakespeare. Or Chesterton's Criticisms and Appreciations of the Works of Charles Dickens, or even Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that sooner or later, we all get the books we deserve.

#16 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 13 March 2011 - 03:18 AM


Pamela by Samuel Richardson, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, The Golden Bowl by Henry James, Island by Aldous Huxley, White Noise by Don DeLillo, The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans, Innocent Blood by P.D. James

Well, I've read none of those, so I can't comment (though I do love other works by some of these authors, ala Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD).

Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited are brilliant. Island is just somehow a boring celebration of Buddhism and pacifism.

Well, the names Dreiser and Vidal don't exactly make me shudder in horror. Brown, however...

Have you read An American Tragedy? Dull, dull, dull AND poorly written to boot. From the little bit I read from Myra Breckinridge, Vidal goes for the shock/sensationalist factor instead of focusing on writing any good English prose.

I love hearing that some of you had good literature classes in college. That's great but I think it's rare. Judging from the number of Americans who read voluntarily and/or for pleasure, some professors somewhere are not doing their job.

In my experience, the most loved books are the ones that you come to on your own. There's something deeply rewarding about "discovering" an author you've never heard of before. It's like finding gold.

Yes, like that time I read my first Dennis Lehane novel ... or when I discovered that lovable idiot writer called Christopher Moore ... or when I realized there were printed unabridged editions of George MacDonald's novels that didn't have Harlequin artwork on the covers, and that this was the same MacDonald that Lewis was talking about ... or ...

I guess one thing leads to another. If you start out reading Tolkien or Lewis, as many young readers do, you may well find yourself moving on to Charles Williams, the most intense and eccentric of the Inklings.

... that was interesting. I still vividly remember multiple scenes from the book All Hallow's Eve. And I read that over 10 years ago.

Another thing I like doing (and I'll probably come off like an uber nerd here) is looking into literary criticism. Reading people write persuasively about books they love can be inspiring. Try picking up Harold Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human and see if you don't get jazzed about Shakespeare. Or Chesterton's Criticisms and Appreciations of the Works of Charles Dickens, or even Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature.

Whoa. How did I forget about Harold Bloom? I remember loving every single thing of his that I read. It's high time I started collecting his works in some of those nice hardback copies that they're bound in. Thanks for the reminder.

#17 Ryan H.

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Posted 13 March 2011 - 06:55 AM

If you start out reading Tolkien or Lewis, as many young readers do, you may well find yourself moving on to Charles Williams, the most intense and eccentric of the Inklings.

I was actually introduced to Williams in an academic setting. We read ALL HALLOWS EVE. And boy, oh boy, did I hate it.

Another thing I like doing (and I'll probably come off like an uber nerd here) is looking into literary criticism. Reading people write persuasively about books they love can be inspiring.

Oh, sure. I was pretty much in love with Walker Percy when I was first introduced to his work in a class, and going through a critical overview of his work just deepened my love for him that much more.

Have you read An American Tragedy? Dull, dull, dull AND poorly written to boot. From the little bit I read from Myra Breckinridge, Vidal goes for the shock/sensationalist factor instead of focusing on writing any good English prose.

Well, I haven't.

Judging from the number of Americans who read voluntarily and/or for pleasure, some professors somewhere are not doing their job.

I don't know. I think the "germ" for reading is often planted much, much earlier.

Whoa. How did I forget about Harold Bloom? I remember loving every single thing of his that I read. It's high time I started collecting his works in some of those nice hardback copies that they're bound in. Thanks for the reminder.

He wrote a novel, you know. It's out of print. It's a gnostic sci-fi novel called THE FLIGHT TO LUCIFER. I found it at a used book sale in a nearby library and snatched it up as soon as it became clear that the Harold Bloom cited on the cover was the same one who did all that literary criticism.

But Bloom is kind of an anomaly in modern literary studies. He's willing to express his passion for literature, and his intense loathing. That willingness to be so freely subjective and intense vanishes when you enter many of the higher echelons of academic literary study.

Edited by Ryan H., 13 March 2011 - 06:59 AM.


#18 Darren H

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Posted 13 March 2011 - 07:06 AM

I hated reading so much in high school, I listed "required English" and "symbolism" as dislikes in my senior yearbook profile. The exceptions that I probably would've admitted to at the time were a couple of the novels I read in my 11th-grade "American Experience" class. Not surprisingly, they were the two most controversial: A Catcher in the Rye and Native Son. I still can't believe public school kids were assigned Richard Wright!

But then during my first two years of college, I stumbled into a couple literature classes that, as the old cliche goes, changed my life. I mean that literally. I gradually shifted from being a music major to a music major with a lit minor to an English Ed major with a music minor, and a decade later I defended my doctoral dissertation proposal on contemporary American lit. (I never finished my Ph.D., but that's another story about major life changes.)

A quick checklist of required college readings that contributed greatly to my evolution: Catch-22, The House of the Seven Gables, Beloved, Sister Carrie, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Goodbye, Columbus, Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, Hard Times, The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, the stories of John Cheever and Raymond Carver, Lolita, Ivanhoe, and on and on. The list would be fifteen times as long if I included graduate work and prep for comprehensive exams.

Edited by Darren H, 13 March 2011 - 07:07 AM.


#19 Cunningham

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Posted 13 March 2011 - 08:43 AM

^ What strikes me as somewhat unexpected is that Catcher in the Rye and Native Son would both fit very comfortably in with the list of books that you DID appreciate...

I think that the biggest problem in teaching "literary" works, is that even the teachers often don't actually know what makes these great works of literature. If the teacher is just teaching them because they are a part of the curriculum, and doesn't personally have any passion for them, then he or she isn't likely to be able to instill any in his or her students either. And after a few years of this, and feeling like it's a battle to get students to read literary works that they aren't interested in, the teacher will often assign a lower-hanging fruit that the students, in the mind of the teacher, are more likely to enjoy (and hence, read.)

I know that in high school I was assigned Lord of the Flies and thought it was the biggest trash I'd ever had to read, and most of my classmates, I remember, felt the same way. But during my first year of teaching I had to teach it again, and I realized that it is actually fairly brilliant, and I was able to communicate to my students why it was brilliant, and many of them came away with a much greater appreciation for the book than I had had in high school.

A former professor of mine wrote a great blog post on this, though focussing on AP English. http://dgmyers.blogs...-knowledge.html

What it boils down to is low expectations and a lack of literary appreciation on the teacher's part.

#20 Darren H

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Posted 13 March 2011 - 10:20 AM

Sorry, Cunningham, that was a poorly-worded paragraph. I meant that Catcher and Native Son were the two exceptions to my general dislike of reading at the time. I ate up those two books despite the way they were presented by my teacher at the time.