Thursday, February 16, 2006
At Least We Haven't Started Burning Them Yet

I often whinge to anyone who'll listen that down here where I currently live, in nothern Mississippi, in spite of the tremendous commercial growth over the last five or six years, we have yet to see a single mainstream bookstore open within ten miles.

There was a brief flash of hope a couple of years ago when I drove past one of those strip-mall complexes and saw a sign on the back of a store that said "...BOOKS." Flushed with optimism, I made a side-trip to buzz past the front of the store; imagine my disappointment when it turned out the sign actually said "SCRAPBOOKS". It was a scrapbooking store: a store full of stuff to make ugly books with no words in them. But I digress.

Now, there are a few Christian bookstores... but those don't fucking count. That's like some cruel hillbilly joke on the 1% of the local population that uses its intellectual capacity for more than screeching "Git 'er done!" at awkward and inappropriate (not to mention unfunny) moments. In the last year, we've actually had an entire "mall" (read: glorified strip-mall) built in the vicinity, and there is whispered hope that, at some point, a Barnes and Noble might join the ranks alongside the six wholly-beef-oriented restaurants nearby. But as yet that hasn't been confirmed; until that day comes, Wal-Mart remains the closest merchant of literature. And you know how high Wal-Mart's intellectual standards are.

But it turns out, the situation may be far, far worse than we feared.

One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.

58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.

42% of college graduates never read another book.

80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.

70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

57% of new books are not read to completion.

Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.

63% of adults report purchasing at least one book during the previous three-month period. (Most were probably exaggerating).

70% of Americans haven't visited a bookstore in five (5) years.

Only 32% of the U.S. population has ever been in a bookstore.


You've got to be fucking shitting me.

Let's just sit here for a moment and let the magnitude of our collective idiocy sink in, yeah? I think we may have just figured out what's wrong with our society.

As for me, I remember beautiful days in London when I couldn't walk more than a quarter mile without passing a bookstore -- Charing Cross, with its two branches of Waterstone's, Blackwell's, Foyle's (oh, Foyle's, that mother-of-all-bookstores that held any book you could ever want in its inventory) and a dozen smaller establishments; the six-storey Waterstone's flagship store near Piccadilly Circus, as big as an urban department store, where I rode the elevator with Salman Rushdie; and stores catering exclusively to specific genres: the store that only sold murder mysteries, the store that only sold cookbooks, the store that only sold design books, the store that only sold stage plays, and the three stores dedicated to film arts. I went to all of them.

I've currently got six books next to my bed, four of them completed within the last month (one within the last three days), and the other two in progress. In the last year, I'd estimate that I've read at least two dozen books. Certainly I have my share of unfinished volumes in my collection, but I have just as many that I've read more than once. I can't imagine living without books -- they're one of my incurable weaknesses. And I don't even consider myself that much of a bibliophile. I've known people who were a lot more book-hungry than me.

God. What have we become?

Later: more cheerfulness.
1:42 AM ::
Amy :: permalink