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A Cup Half-Full, and a Contest


Writers of the world, don't despair! Yet! The news is grim, it's true. According to Dr. David G. Williams (Alternatives, September 2007, alertly espied by my wife, Susie), the statistics on book readers are potentially disheartening: 1/3 of high school graduates will never read another book; 42% of college graduates, same; 80% of US families did not so much as buy a book last year; 70% of all US adults have not visited a bookstore in the past five years; and 57% of all new books are not read to completion. For someone still sniffing the high of his most recent release, it's hard to believe that there's a pony in that pile of, well, you know. But ever the optimist, I prefer to think that my work may yet capture the 2/3 of high-school graduates, 58% of college graduates, and so on, who will continue to read.

But I'm not taking any chances. So I am herewith announcing the first possibly annual Contest to Encourage Americans to Read Books. I'm even offering the first recommendation for our elite panel of judges -- The Point bloggers -- to evaluate: I propose a tax deduction for every book read -- say, $5 per. You would have to itemize those books on your Schedule A, of course, and be prepared, in case you get audited, to give a one-sentence summary of any book requested by the auditor. But history has proven that whatever gets a tax breaks gets a bump. So there's my offering. We'll take suggestions for the next, oh, two weeks? and then ask our esteemed panel to vote.

C'mon readers, have a little sympathy for us writers! Give it your best effort in our Contest to Encourage Americans to Read Books. I'll send a free and, if requested, signed copy of my newest book, Culture Matters , to the winner.


Comments:

I can't live without reading. I am a missionary and several years ago I decided that I just had to read more. My time is ebbed away by errands, email, and trivia. I can't let stuff rob me of time to pray and time to read. Readers are leaders is a popular dictum and I believe it.
All y'all: Good comments. Excellent thoughts. I like the suggestion about TV commercials; and, while I'm all for reading journals and magazines, I believe we need to work on the "big frog" here - reading books (if you have to swallow a frog, don't spend too much time looking at it. If you have a lot of frogs to swallow, start with the big one.) We need more ideas about getting people to read books. Imagine yourself King of America for one day, with absolute authority, and this is your primary job: what would you do?
Does it count if I do most of my book shopping online? Or get them at libraries? I know reading is essential for getting along in a literate society, and wouldn't give up books myself, but I wonder if I should apply those standards to the entire community. After all, it wasn't so long ago that literacy wasn't universal (or at least, not universally achievable), and a number of people seem to have gotten by just fine. In fact, I'd feel just peachy about these statistics if they referred to, say, hard-working farmers who read the newspaper and technical manuals for their equipment and not much else. The big question in my mind is how much TV has displaced books, because I don't think that's a good think.
My proposal is to make television commercials with thin, young, attractive people in various social settings holding a book - instead of a beer or a cigarette. Since commercials in general tend to cater to peoples' egos (wants over needs), these proposed commercials would likely attempt to show book reading as cool, using some kind of ironical humor (based on what we know of pro and anti beer/tobacco commercials). Thinking about it for a while can really let your imagination loose with the possibilities. "Pro" commercials examples (you know these: The cabin party, the camp site, the bar/club, friends sitting around a TV watching sports): -People awkwardly trying to sip/smoke/clink/do various things with books that they usually do with alcohol/tobacco (awkward because they're BOOKS). -Women flocking to "Nerdy" guys reading books (the bigger [the book] the better) -sports holding/reading books -> extreme sports would make it funnier, e.g. surfing. Con: -This is your brain on books. -Ever seen those commercials where the 'camera' follows tobacco smoke into the lungs (to show the damage etc)? You could have people in conversation,and instead of the smoke/lung picture, we're drawn into the brain (which could be imaginary depiction of how they can bring up witty sayings based on the books they've read (or are reading/discussing)). Maybe CSI-like effects... --- Anyway, just some thoughts/examples to get the idea out. Obviously there's a bit of an irony with the differences in medium and trying to communicate that people should read through the "visual" TV, but I think 'cool', 'well done' commercials would 'Encourage Americans to Read Books'...
Those statistics horrify me, actually. I'm the one who feels she's doing well if she _hasn't_ bought a book in the last three days... I think my record was 30 books in three days for under $40 (they weren't all for me, happily for my poor shelf). That included the new Harry Potter book.
T.M., if reading were tax deductible, then lobbyists for the bloggers and podcasters would get provisions for 10 cents and 5 cents per blog or podcast, respectively. Next thing you know, just reading the tax law on reading itself would earn you $25 - because certainly someone would complain that not all books have the same number of pages, or words, etc. ("$5 whether it's 'The Brothers Karamazov' or 'See Spot Run'? Duh!") So I have a counter-proposal: those who read will simply get promoted at a much faster rate than those who don't. That system seems to be working extremely well now, so it should work just as well in the future.
What about reading magazines or newspapers?
Since books generally come with a several paragraph-long blurb on the jacket/cover, a one-sentence summary would be all too easy to fake. Also, do all new books really *deserve* to be read to completion? I frequently check out books by unfamiliar authors or outside my area of interest but feel no obligation to finish them if the writing proves sub-par or the content uninteresting or objectionable.
I like the posts, however, I think most of us forget that people are self centered egotists by nature. That being said, the challenge is to show people what they can get from reading. I look at myself and my second son as examples. I didn't read a full book, even for a book report, until I was a freshman in high school; my son didn't start to read until he needed to for on-line gaming. I read for enjoyment and education, he reads for his purposes. In short spending our time thinking of inventive ways to get people to read is a waste of our time. Time better spent on being counter-cultural. Sorry to sound so cynical, but, in my humble opinion, the statistics are just a reflection of the failure of faith and good parenting to affect our culture. I am quite happy to be raising 6(7 in october) counter-cultural leaders in my home school which has an emphasis on faith, discipline, and yes, reading.