To become lost in a novel, to venture into the uncharted territory of fictionalized worlds, is to start a love affair. It is excitement, it is imagination, but more than this, these pages are the key to our future in myriad ways.
As publishers seek to flood the market with political tell-alls – mostly about President Trump – the real need for novels and stories of worth has never been greater, yet it is a market unserved in these days of scandal and salaciousness. The future these discount rack diatribes offer us is bleak, and worse, betray the beauty of the written word.
While we may decry the destruction of civilized society and the almost fated Idiocracy that awaits the next generation, the solution to averting this is available. To ignore our most treasured resource is to condemn the children of tomorrow to a life of ignorance and darkness.
Thomas Sowell, the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute Stanford, understands this well. Sowell is widely-regarded as one of the preeminent thinkers and scholars living today. He has succeeded in so many areas of his life despite what many would call “a difficult upbringing.” And to what does he credit his success? Books.
Sowell credits his success in life to being exposed to public libraries by a childhood acquaintance who took him to a Harlem library as an impressionable eight-year-old. In an interview with Dave Rubin, Sowell discusses how he was captivated by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Doctor Doolittle which made him a consummate and dedicated reader at such a young age.
He states that if he had not become a reader at so tender an age, it would have been too late for him.
According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in 2015, there were 119,487 libraries in the United States. Sounds like a lot, right? But the reality is not quite what is seems. In fact, libraries that are available for use by all citizens, public libraries, numbered just over 9,000. That works out to around 36,000 people per library.
According to Statista, there averages 24,000 books available in each library: This is less than one book per person.
A Lack of Readers
Those who claim to defend books do so using twisted statistics. How often do we hear that despite the prodigious use of the internet, more books than ever are being published? Yet this ignores the fact that the vast majority of books published each year are academic texts that are sold only to school libraries.
In 2013, of almost 1.5 million books published in the U.S., only 50,000 were fictional. Of the remaining 1.45 million books, these are academic texts or self-published books. But even this does not provide a complete picture of how few accessible titles are being released each year.
In fact, it is estimated that 90% of all academic books are never cited, giving truth to author Theodore Sturgeon’s eponymous “law” that “90% of everything is crap.”
Also, many of these texts are solicited by publishers as a money-making scam. Publishers scrape university websites for contact details and approach lecturers to write a book (this can be a series of old essays compiled). In the U.K., the publisher expects to sell 300 copies of the book for around £80 each to academic libraries. The imprint costs around £3,000 making the publishers a cool £21,000 per publishing venture.
People Aren’t Reading
People are not more prolific readers than they used to be; the numbers are massaged. This impacts society today and in a more exponential manner for the future. YouTuber and author Mark Dice took to the Californian streets to discover the level of engagement in books by the average “man on the street.” What he discovered was that very few of those questioned could even name an actual book or an author.
The idea that the internet is a suitable educational replacement for actual books is misguided. Reading a book requires patience, an element of calmness, and focus – three aspects that the internet does not. Perhaps unsurprisingly, life on the web is veering more and more towards instant return, excitability, and multiple options for distraction.
Has it not occurred to anyone that the aforementioned skills are necessary for all areas of life? Dealing with people, making plans, any exercise that requires thought rather than reaction can be improved through careful consideration. If you cannot read a book, you cannot solve a complex problem that demands deeper thought.
Public libraries are the key to the future. A cultural shift away from the instant gratification of tablets and iPhones towards the rewarding return of a completed book is more than just a whimsy of nostalgia; it is a necessity on which all accomplishment depends.