A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Monday, June 04, 2007

"When I was your age, television was called books."

My students often ask me how come I know so many (often strange) things, and I always answer them with the above quote.

It's one of my favorite all-time quotes-- from a book, because I read William Goldman's The Princess Bride as a book before it became a movie, since I worked in a bookstore at the time (and I urge you to read the book-- it's even better than the movie). I am in love with reading. Now of course, I watched TV too, as a kid, but we only had one TV and 4 stations during my most-formative years, and whatever Dad wanted to watch, that was what we watched-- and that means lots of "Hee-Haw" and "Gunsmoke" and "The Beverly Hillbillies" and yes, football, and then when Dad was at work, we would watch Carol Burnett and "All in the Family" and even sometimes "Mork and Mindy." But I spent more of my time hiding on the roof of our house behind the chimney reading a book (it was quiet there, and no one ever knew that that was my hiding place).

But a story I read today gave me pause. When a used-bookstore owner can't find anyone who wants his books, what should he do?

Should he burn them? That's what Tom Wayne in Kansas City is doing.
Be ready to get depressed, if you're a hardened bibliophile like me. When he couldn't get any libraries to take some of the books in his warehouse, he started setting them aflame:
He said he has noticed a decline in customers in recent years and perceives more people getting information from television or the Internet. He pointed to a 2002 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, which found that less than half of adult respondents reported reading for pleasure, a steep decline from almost 57 percent in 1982.

Anecdotally, the number of used bookstores in Kansas City has declined in recent years, and there are few independent bookstores left in town, said Will Leathem, a co-owner of Prospero's Books.

"There are segments of this city where you go to an estate sale and find five TVs and three books," Leathem said.

Dozens of customers took advantage of the event, scouring the pile of books waiting to go into the fire, looking for last-minute bargains.

Mike Bechtel paid $10 for a stack of books, including an antique collection of children's literature, which he said he'd save for his 4-year-old son.

"I think given the fact it is a protest of people not reading books, it's the best way to do it," Bechtel said. Wayne has "made the point that not reading a book is as good as burning it."

Read the whole thing.

I'll be honest with you: I have books stacked all over the place, and I read several books at once. I love them. Some of my favorites are from used book stores, especially the ones I had to use when doing research for my master's thesis. You never know what you can learn from a book-- ANY book.

But you know, now it's not just television competing for people's attention. The internet can really be a wasteland-- not THIS site, of course, or those of my friends, because we discuss weighty issues that you have to READ, naturally, (snicker) but most of my students and my own children want to spend time on social sites or game sites. Most of my students have transferred their abhorrence for reading any but the thinnest book to reading any but the most abbreviated webpage. I think that's why they like Wikipedia so much-- and hey, I love it too for certain purposes, because at least by using Wikipedia I can get around the school firewall against images and show my students a picture of what I'm talking about. But it certainly isn't the most reliable source of information. I also have had numerous students tell me that. until they had my class, they hadn't had to read their textbooks, ever, much less read all of pages within a textbook. I've even had a few kids tell me that the textbook was the first book they had read since leaving behind picture books. I find this pretty frightening. Then there's the fact that while many students disdain reading, they will believe almost anything they read-- but that's a topic for another day.

Are we, as Mr. Wayne states, in the age that will bring about the death of the printed word? I have begun to be moderately apprehensive.

Labels: ,


At 6/4/07, 1:09 PM, Blogger mrschili said...

If we pay for shipping, with the used bookstore owner send us some of the books he's not yet burned?

This horrifies me. Of course, my family is a family of rabid readers - from 8 year old Beanie all the way to 85+ year old Granddad - so I'm a little more than insulated from the realities of the non-reading world.


At 6/4/07, 7:10 PM, Blogger Ms. George said...

I'm sick.
I understand the idea of protesting or lamenting the lack of reading in this country, but burning the books is not the way to make the point. Won't a local shelter take them? Why not send the ones in still-readable condition to New Orleans, or other Gulf Coast schools? There are schools in Appalachia, or around the world, that might take them...
Thanks for sharing the article. I'd pay for shipping too, if I knew where to write.

At 6/4/07, 7:33 PM, Blogger Polski3 said...

I have seen the "pickings" at a used bookstore that was closing....and there are reasons these used books did not sell. Not every book out there is readable. I sit surrounded by books as I type this; mostly books about history, family history/genealogy, novels and reference books.

Look at the number of our students who won't read. To me, it is sad, really sad, that they won't read. They have become too acustom to instant "everything".....

My parents didn't have all that many books around, but they still read; mostly the local newspaper and magazines. We kids were hauled down to the local library on a regular basis. Our local library held summer reading programs. I once managed to get five books on the rack of my bike and get them home. But for students of today, they want to get the latest DVD's and check out games for the whatever game system. And these things are usually not at the local library.

As for TV, at MY house growing up, on that b&w TV (if you know what that is/was, hee hee), it was whatever Dad wanted to see: THE FBI, Lost in Space, Rat Patrol, StarTrek, the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkheit, and sometimes the movie of the week........

Fortunatly, my sons love to read. They both have earned over 500 AR points this school year. We are proud of them! And, both are well on their way to be future readers. We buy them books they want, not video games. I guess a child becoming a reader depends on their parents.

At 6/4/07, 9:16 PM, Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

I've had students ask me what I do for fun when they find out that we don't own a single video game system in our house and they're always shocked that I answer, "I read."

When I was a kid, books were my world. Growing up an only child there were times I had to keep myself busy and reading was my ticket. My parents read magazines and the newspaper, but beyond that they aren't huge readers. I, on the other hand, will read just about anything I can get my hands on.

One of the reasons I married my husband was because we are both crazy about books and reading. Which is probably why we are surrounded by books.

And have no video games.

And I agree, kids don't seem to see the joy in reading that I did as a kid. I also don't see them outside playing games that involve creativity ("you be the good guys and we'll be the bad guys..."). It's summer, the weather is great, and I don't see any kids outside. I doubt they're inside reading, however. They're probably sending inane messages to each other on their computers.

At 6/5/07, 7:35 AM, Blogger MommyProf said...

Our friends of the library sells books every year. The ones that don't sell go through a series of donation stops (smaller public libraries, a few get sent to other countries, prison and nursing home libraries) and the stragglers get recycled.

At 6/5/07, 1:38 PM, Blogger Chanman said...

Looking back, I am so happy I only had the four channels when I was growing up (although I wished I could have watched MTV; I only had access to Friday Night Videos).

I wouldn't have watched much tv anyway, but it helped me to become the voracious reader that I still remain. I always say that I learned more from my parents' extensive collection of books than I learned from elementary, high school, and college put together. They were big into Time Life book series, like World War II, the history of flight, the natural world, and so on.

As for the book store owner, for goodness' sake, can't he donate the books to a library or something?

At 6/5/07, 5:45 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Chanman, he tried that, and no one would take them. It's in the rest of the article.

I agree with you about the four channels. For instance: let's see-- "Shields and Yarnell" versus Stranger in a Strange Land.

NOT a tough decision.

At 6/11/07, 2:28 PM, Blogger themachine997 said...

I find it outrageous that he would rather burn these books instead of trying to do something productive with them. I realize that not all of the books you find in a used book store are best selling page-turners, but there are many interesting boons that can and probably will serve soneone a purpose. I would also pay for the shipping and whatever books, that he just can't seem to sell, he could always donate them to a library or resale shop.

As for the death of the modern printed word, books and print will always survive. Eventually, I believe that my peers and future generations will come around and see the knowledge, experirences, and excitiement books can provide. Just see what happens when the latest Harry Potter books are released. Who the hell do you thinks all of those books?


Post a Comment

<< Home

free statistics