Monday, January 07, 2008

The Twilight of Books?

This is a post from Al Mohlers blog. It is a must read in my book.

Years ago, Walter Ong argued that our civilization is returning to a condition of "orality" in which the text gives way to the tongue. Specifically, Ong argued that this condition is actually a form of "secondary orality" since the culture had once been literate -- but willingly gave up reading. The great civilizational achievement of literacy was being surrendered to a new non-literate age, fueled by television and mass electronic culture.
The bare fact is that reading is not an important part of the lives of many persons -- including millions who can read. Americans have far more leisure time then ever before, but they fill those hours with everything from television to video games to surfing the internet. These media often use words, but they may also be the great enemies of literacy.
Writing in
The New Yorker, Caleb Crain warns that literary reading is fast disappearing as Americans are shifting attention to amusements. In "The Twilight of the Books," Crain cites a number of research reports from both the United States and the Netherlands and argues that we are just not reading as previous generations had read. Book sales per person are falling, reading scores at many grade levels are falling, and this generation of parents is producing a generation of young people who do not read books -- and generally feel no loss.

As Crain reports:
The most striking results were generational. In general, older Dutch people read more. It would be natural to infer from this that each generation reads more as it ages, and, indeed, the researchers found something like this to be the case for earlier generations. But, with later ones, the age-related growth in reading dwindled. The turning point seems to have come with the generation born in the nineteen-forties. By 1995, a Dutch college graduate born after 1969 was likely to spend fewer hours reading each week than a little-educated person born before 1950. As far as reading habits were concerned, academic credentials mattered less than whether a person had been raised in the era of television. The N.E.A., in its twenty years of data, has found a similar pattern. Between 1982 and 2002, the percentage of Americans who read literature declined not only in every age group but in every generation--even in those moving from youth into middle age, which is often considered the most fertile time of life for reading. We are reading less as we age, and we are reading less than people who were our age ten or twenty years ago.

The impact of all this is more significant than some might think. Only 13 percent of Americans are thought to be able to take two contrasting newspaper editorials and come to a reasoned comparison. Then again, many Americana are not reading newspapers in the first place. This has obvious implications for our national discourse and politics.
For Christians, the concern must reach even deeper levels of concern. Christians are a "people of the Book." Our knowledge of God, the Gospel, and all things essential to our faith is found within a book, the written text of the Bible. Beyond this, while Christian witness is often oral in transmission, the survival of the church depends upon the availability of the Bible as the church's living witness to Jesus Christ. Put simply, Christians who are not deeply involved in a growing understanding of the Bible will find their faith fed, fueled, and formed by something other than the Bible.
Taking the argument a step further, Christians should note that Christianity has also given birth to a literary culture of books. The church has been fed, challenged, and corrected by arguments and narratives that have been irreducibly literary. Take away the book (or take away reading those books) and the church is a very different people.

Read the entire article here.


Tami said...

Wow. I was not an avid reader growing up. I find myself reading classic literature with my children now. Experiencing these treasured stories for the first time. I feel like I lost out. I am now trying to cultivate a love for reading I never had. It is very enjoyable and yet difficult too. I feel it invaluable for my children to see me reading and for me to read to them. Thank you for the wonderful post. In God's love, Tami

Anonymous said...

Very true..Very convicting..My husband and I can ask ourselves, how passionately do we want to be a reading family? Because, literature is not just going to fall into our children's laps. It certainly does not fall into my lap! Like Tami, literature wasn't read to me growing up, and I have to make time to read it in our home. It doesn't come naturally.
Thank you for this post!

Mrs. "M" said...

Tami amd Carrie,

I too, didn't start reading until I was an adult in my early twenties. The interest came shortly after I was saved. My family was not a classics reading clan at all. It is a discipline in many ways still. Fortunately, like yours, my children will have a different experience.

Loraena said...

I thought this was a really interesting article too. I love reading Dr. Mohler.