Morning Edition on NPR has a piece this morning keying off the recent Pew survey which found that millennials were actually more likely to have read a book in the last year than those over 30. The percentages were 88% and 79%, which I think are quite comforting numbers. Of course one book is maybe just one book, but still, one is better than none: we are so attuned to shaking our hoary locks and sighing, “Well, those kids — they just can’t concentrate on anything longer than a Tweet”. But people write poetry and fiction on Twitter; R. L. Stine just did a book/story on Twitter: new media are just new media. In a slightly different take on the issue, NPR did a story the day before about historic literary characters texting.

Isaac Fitzgerald, books editor for BuzzFeed, that grand purveyor of listicles for millennials, says of the idea that we are witnessing the death of literature: “Seriously? I feel like there’s no industry that’s more obsessed with its own demise than publishing. But it’s been like that since the printing press. I’m sure there were just monks that were like, ‘Well, what about our hand-painted letter books? Those were the only real books. This printing press stuff is trash.'”

I wonder if other industries obsess about their impending demise. Maybe not so much as we do, though as a child I do remember an atmosphere of gloom and doom about the tweed industry in the Borders of Scotland. I must have heard several times, “Everything was fine till the Americans imposed their tariff” which made me think of some protectionist move resulting from maybe World War II or the Great Depression. I was surprised several years later to find out that the tariffs the man in the street was bitching about actually dated from 1874. The moaning and groaning turned out to be absolutely justified though — the tweed industry in Galashiels is almost utterly gone: we were just making the wrong thing: top class tweed which would last for years in a world where the fashion conscious didn’t want a garment to last longer than two or three seasons. Will books printed on paper suffer the same “de-luxe-ification”? It’s certainly one possible future. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there’s not someone out to get you.

“Read so hard librarians trying’ to fine me” is the refrain of Bitches in bookshops (below) by Annabelle Quezada and La Shea Delaney, a JayZ/Kanye West parody.

Hardcover bound 2, a Kanye West parody by the same artists, is also featured on the program. I rather like the internal rhyme “perusin’ Malthusian theory” with its next line “Edgar Allen Poe when I feel like something eerie”.  “The book’s usually better than the movie” — how many times have we said this? And they’re still saying it.

How many entries does a list have to have before it grows from a listicle to a list? Here’s BuzzFeed‘s list of 65 books to read in your twenties — with apologies to those like me who have missed that particular boat. If 88% of millennials read ever half of these, we should all be delighted, even if they do like to refer to Moby Dick as They Told Him White Whales Were Impossible to Hunt. That’s When He Went Literally Crazy.

 

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