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Thursday, 13 February 2014

Is Reading for Pleasure a Dying Art?

Novelist Ruth Rendell appeared on Radio 4's Arts program, Front Row last week and set alarm bells ringing by stating that reading for pleasure has become a minority pastime, almost a specialist activity. The 83 year old author bemoaned the fact that people are no longer ashamed to admit that they don't read fiction, which was something that only twenty years ago was unthinkable.

The story was picked up by a number of newspapers with both The Guardian and The Telegraph devoting column inches to the death of reading. The thought that this may be true depresses the hell out of me, and I suspect the majority of Archive readers will feel the same way. I read regularly, always have and I've always got a book (fiction) on the go as well as having written a fair few and hoping to write a lot more.

I Googled, 'Death of Reading' and within the blink of an eye my request had traveled the virtual highways, gone through the secret government surveillance bots and returned a mass of interesting articles, as well as a couple of pornography sites. Are there any keywords not used by pornography web sites? I found the piece on the blog Poetic Serendipity to be interesting. Written and posted back in 2010 it was concerned over a survey, the results of which can be downloaded as a PDF HERE, and again made for depressing reading for the writer.

'It is now possible to see the decline of literature in normal life.' Ruth Rendell

So is reading dying? I'm not so sure but I think, rather I know that the traditional ways of obtaining fiction are if not dying then at least being reshaped into something new.eBooks may have been around for a long while but it's only in recent years that they have become mainstream. And it's no use arguing that eBooks are not mainstream because they are. These days I think I see more people reading on electronic devices than I do physical books. So I think eBooks will be the Savior of fiction reading and that reading will enjoy a resurrection, a digital resurrection that ensures that reading fiction is something that will be done for a long, long time to come.

I bloody well hope so.


Neil Waring said...

Cannot imagine life without a book. But then I am retired, but happy to say all of my kids and their kids are avid readers also.
A few years ago I was teaching a community college class and mentioned that I could not remember a time, anytime in my life, that I didn't have a book going. They look I got, might just have well said in one minute I will blow up.

Walker Martin said...

Every day I wake up and think about what I'll be reading during the day. I'm retired and have been for 14 years now and my days are filled with reading and watching at least one film noir or western movie.

However I've found that most people do not think like this at all. They work, eat, watch TV and sleep. Then they repeat and repeat for the rest of their lives.

Chap O'Keefe said...

That your first two comments on this post come from retired people says heaps. That I'm a third retiree probably doesn't provide a reassuring balance. I suspect Ruth Rendell has summed up the situation correctly. Oh dear, it was all so different back in 1964 when I reviewed her first book for the Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine. Today far too many young people ask, "Who the hell was Edgar Wallace?" A few may even ask the same about Ms Rendell, although it's not so many years ago since I was able to boost flagging finances by selling my first edition copy of the first Rendell book for $2000... Which is a damn sight more than a publisher can pay as an advance for a Chap O'Keefe novel!

Joanne Walpole said...

I'm not retired and I read fiction every day for 30-60 minutes at bedtime. I also read a lot of non-fiction in the way of news and current affairs. However, I've noticed that my husband who used to devour a 500 page fiction book in a couple of days, very rarely reads nowadays preferring instead to pass his time 'doing other stuff'. I think it's a sad state of affairs that it took Fifty Shades of Grey to get people putting books in their grocery shopping baskets, walking down the street reading, and discussing fiction. If that's the state of fiction, perhaps it's better that less people are reading.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Interesting point JO and although I've never read Fifty Shades, other than a few pages, and all reports seem to be that it was badly written and nonsense the fact is that it got people reading, and fiction into the limelight. That's something to be applauded and perhaps we need more of this but with butt-plugs.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

last line should have read but with less butt-plugs