Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bragged About Any Good Books Lately?

The news today is that even reading has been politicized. A new poll finds one of every four Americans has not cracked a book in the past year, and that leads to a brouhaha about whether conservatives or liberals are the most avid readers.

Former Democratic Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, now president of the American Association of Publishers, started it by saying, "The Karl Roves of the world have built a generation that just wants a couple slogans: 'No, don't raise my taxes, no new taxes.' It's pretty hard to write a book saying, 'No new taxes, no new taxes, no new taxes' on every page."

"Obfuscation,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto shot back, “usually requires a lot more words than if you simply focus on fundamental principles, so I'm not at all surprised by the loquaciousness of liberals."

As a spectacularly unsuccessful book publisher for a brief time, I can mediate this with a few words of wisdom: Who knows? People buy books for all kinds of reasons: from self-help advice about diet, money, etc. as promises to themselves to improve their lives, which they may read or skim but just feel better about possessing, to serious works, which may serve the same purpose on an intellectual level.

Conservative blogger Jonah Goldberg today confesses his “dirty little secret: I'm a terrible book nibbler, reading the introductions and then grazing from the tasting menu called the index.”

Figures in the AP poll found that 22 percent of liberals and moderates said they had not read a book, compared with 34 percent of conservatives. But there are books and books: Ann Coulter and Al Franken do their stand-up routines between hard covers, Rove admits that he and President Bush sometimes cheat in their reading contest by counting murder mysteries, and then there are all the vacuous best sellers that, as Flannery O’Connor once observed, could have been prevented by a good teacher.

In the age of YouTube and blogs, what may be the real news in all this is that the politically persuaded are still so touchy about their intellectual credentials. It would be helpful if they showed some signs of brain activity in what they said and did, instead of arguing about what’s on their night stands and coffee tables.

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