How Many Books?

Too Many BooksOverheard at a party: A young mother complaining that ever since her pre-pubescent son discovered the lurid joys of Playstation video games, he had stopped reading. Completely.

Much solemn murmuring followed the mother’s admission. What could be done, everyone wondered? How could this putatively heinous state of affairs be reversed?

What we wondered was this: How many books had the adults at the party read in the past month — or year, or decade?

Almost no one we know reads. (I mean, besides celebrity fetish magazines and mutual fund statements.) We watch movies and television shows, and we visit favorite Web pages. But the publishing industry’s sales figures tell the sad story about books: fewer and fewer people are interested in them, Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, and How To Get Thin, Rich, and Righteous tutorials notwithstanding. Books take too much time, too much concentration. Even keeping up with weekly issues of The New Yorker magazine taxes all but the most devoted bibliophile. Where’s the time to get through 300 or more pages of ideas and arguments, of stories and scenarios?

Book writers are dismayed by the increasing irrelevance of our occupation. But we’ll keep on doing it, anyway. We’ve got no choice; we don’t know how to program war games for Playstation.

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