The Mind of James Donahue

Lost Pleasures

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Where Are The Bookworms?


By James Donahue


As a writer, I was alarmed when I read a recent report in the Christian Science Monitor that people aren’t reading good books anymore.


The story said that while America has grown by 40 million adults in the past 20 years, only about 600,000 more adults are reading books of fiction, poetry or drama. And the decline is worse among young adults.


For the first time since books began being published for the masses, and children were taught to read them, less than half of the adult population chooses to devote spare time reading literature. And nearly two-thirds of men don’t read at all, the report said.


The writer warned that our society is consequently becoming “less imaginative.” Literary critic Harold Bloom was quoted as saying we are becoming a nation of oblivious narcissists with a shrinking capacity to empathize, imagine, visualize and dream.


Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Education Association said: “We are seeing, I think, a great dumbing down of America. We’ve never had a population so seemingly well educated or so affluent – and yet we have proportionally fewer readers.”


Oh, there are exceptions. J. K. Rowling’s successful Harry Potter series have been drawing children to the libraries and book stores by the droves, and biographical works by some of the famous and infamous celebrities have been good sellers. But these are examples of the extreme.


I suspect it was vogue to have Bill Clinton’s book, My Life, lying on the coffee table back when it was first issued. But I wonder how many people actually took the time to read that thick bound manuscript.


As a published book author and former book publisher, I think I understand many of the ills of the industry. It is the same malaise that is sweeping the music and movie industry. There seems to be a control on writers, musicians and film makers that originates in the church. I think organized crime also is involved. And it is difficult, these days, to separate one from the other.


Whatever the truth, it is almost impossible for new writers and artists to break into the fine arts field if their work is creative and non-conforming.


I discovered that publishers wouldn’t give my books the time of day. My offers that included opening chapters of my books and a general description of the work would come back unopened. When I gave up and launched my own publishing business, I found that people wanted to read my books and I had no trouble selling them.


But I found myself wedged between a rock and a hard place with this venture. I am a writer, not a businessman. I found myself devoting all of my time selling, promoting, delivering cases of books, keeping books, filing out required tax records and paperwork. There was no time left in my day to write new material. Thus my business was sold, the books went out of print, and I am back in limbo.


Yet people still contact me, asking for copies of my books. Sadly, they are out of print.


When I was a teenager, I was a true bookworm. I haunted the local library and always had my nose in a book. I read every night before going to sleep, and sometimes picked up a book in the morning and got in a chapter before getting out of bed.


In college I majored in English Literature, and got so many hours in American Literature that I almost could have claimed a minor in that field. Anybody who has followed this course of study knows that required a lot of book reading. One of my classes required no less than 25 books devoured in a single semester. And that just earned a C grade. Fifty books earned an A. I got somewhere in the 30 something range by the time the class ended.


My interest in reading waned in recent years. I find that most books on the market are dull. The plots are so familiar I know how the book will thread just looking at the jacket in the store. The thought of forking out six to twelve dollars for a paperback, with print so small my old eyes need a magnifying glass to read it, is not something I am willing to do.


Sadly I, like so many other Americans, have joined the line of non-book readers. It is not that I don’t miss the pleasure of a good read. I just can’t find one.

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