Monday, September 6, 2010

The Four Rs – Reading, Writing, Rithmetic and Reckoning

Recently, several of the authors and one of the of the editors of Murder in La-La Land trekked up Highway 126 to the Blanchard Library in Santa Paula, CA. We had a good turnout and everybody there was wonderful. As nice as can be. Interested. Attentive. The library itself, a former supermarket, is a cavernous building – a giant airplane hangar or soundstage with tons of books. The kind of place that I enjoy just wandering around for hours.

But there was (is) one problem: Except for the people who came to see us, this huge building was empty. Empty! Not a single person there wandering the stacks. Nobody at the tables bent over books. Nobody on the computers. Nobody even talking loud so the librarian had to shush them. Granted, we live in the age of the internet, but people still go to libraries, don't they? And isn't the library still a place to go for socializing, if not for learning? Where I live they are going to be opening a new library and I can't wait, even though I'm addicted to the internet as much as anybody else.

I fear that this is merely a symptom of a post-literate society. After all, what are people looking up on the net, Shakespeare? Or is it only Much Ado About Poontang? Or spending endless hours on Facebook, just diddling around with the all important updates about what they had for breakfast and, even more importantly, if they had a good bowel movement.

Maybe because it was summer. Maybe because it was a weekend afternoon. But something tells me that's the not the case. We all know that reading and readership is declining and ageing. Out of a crowd of about twenty-five people, maybe three were under the age of fifty. That is scary.

It seems to me that the more info we have the less people seem to be interested in it – at least in info that means anything.

And how many people in our society are functionally illiterate? I've seen figures of up to a third of the population cannot read a medicine bottle. How many lawyers can't name the Supreme Court justices? How many teachers don't know even the basics of their subjects and can't teach? How many people are dropping out of school or graduating, but still barely functional? How many people can barely see beyond the tip of their typing fingers?

Hell yes, I want readers. And I want a country where people are literate, which doesn't mean they have to read Proust or Joyce or, God forbid, "Gravity's Rainbow". I'm no snob, hell I write mysteries for the most part, with some serious fiction thrown in for good measure.

The Blanchard Library is a veritable supermarket of books, but still the audience is going hungry, filling their minds with Facebook and Four Square updates, living Second Lives instead of their first (and real) lives.

This does not bode well for us as authors or the country as a whole. Frankly, it scares the shit out of me! Important Facebook update to come.