13 January 2008

Goodreads politics

Simultaneous with reading Lidia's last post, I got involved in the past couple weeks with Goodreads, a networking site that operates on the basis of books -- who's read what, how you felt about it. It's not quite coming in each other's mouths, but it's addictive, promising, and emphasizes -- I'm right there with ya, Lid -- READING. One of the probs with the "year's best" lists we come up with is that inevitably we're listing our friends, and even if they write great books, it feels a little bit too local for me (besides which, there's the inevitable "hey, how come he didn't list MY book"!). A more outwardly networked service like Goodreads let's you list your faves, and then the listing riffs out into worlds semi-known and totally new.

Reading = Jouissance, yes, yes, yes... but I also feel nowadays a need to have a fully political commitment to reading as well. The new NEA report on reading, "To Read or Not to Read" (pdf), which updates the earlier 2004 report,"Reading at Risk," begins with three factual statements about our failing democracy:

• Americans are spending less time reading.
• Reading comprehension skills are eroding.
• These declines have serious civic, social, cultural, and economic implications.

Reading is becoming more and more explicitly a political act,and promoting reading certainly is. I made phonecalls for John Kerry in 2004 (I called Pennsylvania, which he won) -- now I'm trying to devote more time to promoting reading. Starcherone Books is a non-profit -- as are many small presses -- whose legal justification is as an educational organization promoting reading. That once felt like a convenient legal loophole in order to compete for grant money. It doesn't anymore.


Anonymous said...

I never thought of reading for pleasure as a political act. I do feel, though, when I'm modeling reading for my childred, and encouraging them to read joyfully, that I'm doing something for my country.

Unknown said...

By the way, Matt Kirschenbaum of U. Maryland (an acquaintance of mine) skewered the NEA report for not taking into account reading online. He delivered an assessment of the report, and was quoted nationally on its faults.

One of the literacy criteria was reading local newspapers.

I read my news on the computer.

I am not counted as a news reader.

Ted Pelton said...

In bed last night with my book of the moment -- Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You & You Fall Down, about misunderstandings between Hmong immigrants and American doctors, which sounds like not much, but it's riveting -- I was thinking that Lidia was right that reading for pleasure isn't political. (I just wanted, hungrily, to eat the book.) But that perhaps talking about reading was.

And, Dimitri, I think it's a good point that the NEA report does absurdly put "internet" in a wholly other category than "reading" -- which belies not just online versions of news sources but the small press revolution going on in internet magazines, journals, etc. (The NEA counts internet publications now -- at least some -- for determining eligibility for their individual literature grants, after all.) At the same time, that modifies & mitigates rather than disproves the NEA report's contentions, which still rings true to myt experience in the classroom. Simply think of how many books you would read in an English class 20 years ago compared to how many you assign now to undergrads. I'd say I ask my classes to read about 30-40% less, an amount my students nevertheless complain about...

Brian said...

Reading online has also changed how people read, I think it's fair to say. Even amongst fellow publishing industry folks, one sees and talks about the prevalence of scanning rather than reading, moreso now than before. Until we really deal with how that's changing how young people read, I'm not sure it's entirely fair to lump online reading with hardcopy reading, though I appreciate the issue being raised.

Unknown said...

ted--where'd you get that image? it's COOL.
and i'm with you.

Ted Pelton said...

Found on Google image search--


Unknown said...

I would say that scanning news online is very similar to scanning news in a newspaper. Reading a hardcopy of the news is one of the weightiest criteria for this report.

The biggest problem here is that researchers are losing their ability to measure literacy since newspaper circulation is falling, and online hits of a website don't tell us very much.