A Bloggin’ We Will Go!

This is the first posting of a blog devoted to the defense and protection of the book. You wouldn’t think a blog like this would be necessary, would you? How could books be in need of defending or protection? Well, they say that the first step to solving a problem is recognizing there is one. And I’m here to tell you: there’s a problem. With books. Books are in trouble.

It’s not reading that’s in trouble. There’s still an awful lot of reading going on. But not in books. People are reading tons of stuff on-line, in magazines, on websites–and people are getting lots of information from cable television, audio books, podcasts…the competition for people’s attention is dizzying. But books as a primary or even important source of information, insight, guidance, and entertainment is on the wane.

There are many places to look for evidence of this–and, believe me, we will look at many of them in the months ahead–but one appeared yesterday in the New York Times that you might have missed–mainly because on the face of it, it seemed to be extolling the virtues of books. As a person with a passion for books–as a Book Templar–I read it with sadness.

The article was on page B1 of the Saturday, September 1, 2007, as the last of the paper’s “Summer Rituals” series. This one was by Nina Bernstein and it was entitled, “On the Outdoor Book Tour, the Word is Spreading.” You can read it at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/01/nyregion/01summer.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

As I said, on the face of it, it’s a very pleasant piece–about people in all sorts of public areas reading. But thinking about it, I was shaken: has reading become so rare an activity that we have to write (and read) articles about people simply reading a book in a public place? Imagine if someone wrote a piece about the joy of walking on the sidewalks of New York. Just that–walking. Or window shopping, or looking at tall buildings, or walking on grass in a city park…wouldn’t we come to the conclusion that we were dealing with an endangered and soon-to-be-extinct activity?

Wasn’t there a time in the not-so-distant past when people read all the time–on trains and busses, waiting in a waiting room, sitting on a park bench? I am always amazed at how totally engrossing a person listening to iPod is by what’s coming in through the earphones. Wasn’t there a time when a book could do the same thing? I haven’t seen that kind of immerssion in a book in a public place for a long time.

I wonder if someone who was sitting on a bench in a place where a “No Loiterng” sign was posted would be liable to being arrested or shooed away.

I’m glad Nina Burnstein wrote the article; I’m worried and disturbed by what I think it said.

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