Have We Read Enough Books?

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Jackie Hemond

Jackie Hemond

“The Great American Read”, an ambitious eight-episode documentary series by PBS, will explore reading in America. The show, airing in the summer of 2018, will be kicked off in May by a two-hour segment which reveals America’s 100 best-loved books chosen by a panel of literary experts and a public survey. The series is based on a similar program which aired in England and purportedly increased book sales. I hope it will also increase circulation statistics in libraries.

I read the announcement of the PBS series shortly after hearing Jared Kushner’s startling assertion that “We have read enough books.” His response was in answer to a congressional intern who asked Kushner what he would do to fix the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kushner’s response indicated that history and reading offered too many viewpoints, issues and emotions and was unhelpful in the peace process. Days after, Kushner’s assertion still echoed in my head. Have we read enough books?

In a recent book (2016), John Miller, President of Central Connecticut State University and John McKenna, analyzed a 2005 study called the World’s Most Literate Nations. The study ranked 61 countries on their populace’s literate behaviors by counting libraries, newspapers, education inputs and outputs, such as achievement tests and years of schooling, and computer availability. The United States ranked seventh following Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. In the number of reading hours, the United States ranked twenty-third.

Miller said that the report consistently found “no meaningful correlation between years of compulsory schooling and educational expenditures on the one hand and test scores on the other”. For instance, although the years of compulsory education in the United States has increased, its literary behaviors have decreased, and the reading level has stayed relatively the same. “It is not so much that we are slowing down in this world race, but rather that other (nations) are speeding up,” Miller said. Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden took the five top slots in the study because “their culture… values reading”. The importance of literacy “is used as a lens through which to view countries’ economic development, gender equality, resource utilization, and ethnic discrimination… Societies that do not practice literate behavior are often squalid, undernourished in mind and body, repressive of human rights and dignity, brutal, and harsh”.

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