Who Reads Literature? The Future of the United States as a Nation of Readers

Who Reads Literature? The Future of the United States as a Nation of Readers

Who Reads Literature? The Future of the United States as a Nation of Readers

Who Reads Literature? The Future of the United States as a Nation of Readers

Excerpt

Because the art of literature is inextricably linked to a country's language and history, it has traditionally played a central role in the culture of most nations. It is difficult to think of England without thinking of Shakespeare and Dickens, or Russia without Pushkin, Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Dostoyevsky. So it has been in the United States, at least in the past. The American cultural heritage includes characters, scenes, and phrases from the works of such authors as Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Eugene O'Neill, among others.

Today, however, there is a widespread sense that the reading of literature does not occupy a prominent place in the lives of most Americans. Many observers feel that we are no longer "a nation of readers," but a nation of watchers: watchers of movies, television, videocassettes, and computer displays. Literary critic and newspaper columnist Jonathan Yardley complains about the "increasing irrelevance of writing," and laments the fact that contem-

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