The Death of Literature?

@AilaStephens (1)“All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, 
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”
-Walt Whitman

 

Halloween looms. I love Halloween. I don’t do anything, really. I’m not often accused of being a social butterfly. And we only get about four kids trick-or-treating. (It’s a burden having a giant bowl of unclaimed candy!) It’s Fall, though. The leaves are changing and padding the ground. The temperature is dipping, and pumpkins dominate the produce department of every grocery store.

Though I don’t really go out and celebrate Halloween, I do enjoy the lore. I used to be keen on watching all the scary movies—the more gore, the better. But nowadays I tend to stick to a few classics that I’m drawn to every year. Of course no Halloween would be complete without Hocus Pocus, Practical Magic, Sleepy Hollow, *the* Halloween movies (Because, Michael Myers!), and Ghostbusters.

I always wonder why it is we spend so much time and money to scare ourselves. What with the costumes, the tickets to the latest slasher films, haunted houses, housefuls of decorations, etc—we spare no expense in curdling our own blood, despite the fact there is already so much out there to fear.

Of the plethora of scary topics, I was scrolling through social media not long ago and I saw a satirical image that I find inherently frightening. Perhaps not in the way that causes one’s hair to stand on end or heart palpitations, but it’s frightening nonetheless.

The image, by artist John Holcroft, depicts a book in the shape of a coffin and the nails each depict a different social media outlet. The artist is clearly predicting the bye-to-booksimminent death of literature, with social media to blame for its untimely demise. Now, as a writer, this scares the hell out of me. I don’t think it is that society doesn’t still enjoy a good story, but because social media plays such a huge role in our lives now, the way people want their information has changed. We get our news as we scroll Facebook while waiting on our doctor’s appointment. We prefer our interactions 140 characters at a time. Does this prevent people from reading books? Have our attention spans diminished to the point where cracking a book and making it to the end is a foreign concept?

A 2016 Pew Research Center survey cites that 26% of American adults hadn’t read a book in the 12 months prior to the survey. 19% of those adults had also not visited a library in those 12 months. I suppose those are fairly small numbers, and may not on their own suggest the demise of literature…but there’s more. In another study, it is suggested that approximately 50% of American adults cannot read past an 8th grade level—with a whopping 33% of high school graduates who are unlikely to crack open a book for pleasure after they graduate high school.

What then might happen with the children of that 33%? Will they have a love of reading instilled in them or will that skip them, causing that number to rise over the years? Surely, as with most technologies, social media is going to continue to grow, evolve, and firm up its grip on society.

Does that in and of itself have to be a bad thing though? I hope not.

I’ve never really done much as a writer or a reader when it comes to WattPad, but my understanding is that it is pretty much a social media+writer’s delight. Perhaps it will help keep the love of reading and writing alight in the hearts of teens and young adults while satiating the addiction of social media.

The scariest statistic I came across, though, is this: 80% of US families did not buy a book this year (statisticbrain.com: August 4, 2017). I’m not statistician, obviously, but this number seems awfully high. It doesn’t state whether it refers to print books, eBooks, a combination, picture books, etc. I suppose some factors may have inflated that: used books might not be counted, lending libraries, thrift stores (where I buy a lot of books, personally), children’s books, etc. etc.

Other statistics to note:

US Inmates who are literate: 15%
Books started that are not completed: 57%
US Adults who haven’t been in a bookstore in 5 years: 70%?! (How do people resist?!?!)

It isn’t surprising to me that with statistics like these, John Holcroft foresees the death of literature. Personally, I don’t think literature will (or could ever) die. It has already evolved. Can you imagine what Walt Whitman, Charlotte Brontë, Mark Twain, Jane Austen, or any other pre-internet age author would have thought if you’d said to them that people would one day be able to get their work through their telephones? Or that one day there would be a way they could write and share their work instantly with the whole world? The publishing industry and writers alike are already adapting and dipping their toes in possible solutions to attract new readers.

What do you think? Have you personally noticed any changes in the reading habits of your family, friends, or even yourself? Is literature dying or thriving?

Until next time, happy writing…and for crying out loud: HAPPY READING!

 

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