Earl Smith / March, 2014: I really like those filler pieces that magazine editors use along the edges of their pages. I often learn a thing or two. Sometimes, they give me pause. For example, I was recently startled to discover that Olympic officials distributed 100,000 condoms to the 7,650 athletes at the Winter Games in Sochi, and, not far away, another blurb explained that nearly 30% of Americans didn’t read a single book in all of 2013.
So, you might ask, exactly what do these random bits of information have in common? It’s a fair question, and the answer could well be ‘not much,’ except for one thing. Both of them proffer discouraging news to writers who like to sell their books.
Take the Olympic story, and do the numbers. This grand latex handout amounted to 35 condoms for each and every athlete to ration out over the two-week duration of the winter games. That seems to me to be a most ambitious project, even for athletes. Olympic indeed! But, here’s my point: These numbers also suggest there was precious little spare time in Sochi for reading books. (Never mind the dent that was left in the general population of future readers.)
As for Americans, writ large, the Huffington Post reports that in 2013, 41% didn’t read any fiction, 42% didn’t read non-fiction, and 28% didn’t read any books at all. These numbers have more than tripled since 1978. That means, I suppose, that whenever we stand in a three-person line for a cup of coffee latte, we can be quite certain that one of us hasn’t picked up a book in a very long time. What will we talk about? The weather? Of course.
So, exactly what are these people doing if they aren’t reading books? (I’m not talking about the Olympians, here. We already know what they’re doing.) I’m talking about the rest of us, and I have a pretty good idea about that, as well. The Information Age is leading to the Information-less Age. Too many of us are absorbed with electronic gadgets that talk, twitter, text and email. Clearly, we are improving the dexterity of our thumbs to the exclusion of our minds. OMG
The solution is simple, albeit somewhat elusive. As with any effort to swing the public mind, we must begin with the children. Read them books, buy them books, and talk with them about books. And, while we’re at it, make their bedrooms and eating spaces electronic-free zones – no TV, no computer, no phone. If this seems a bit daunting and harsh, it’s only because we aren’t doing it ourselves.
As for the rampant use of condoms, I just don’t know. The topic is well beyond my expertise. LOL
Earl Smith is the author of the The Dam Committee, a comic crime caper set in Belfry, Maine. A second book, More Dam Trouble, https://www.facebook.com/moredamtrouble will be released by North Country Press on April 7. http://www.northcountrypress.com/