War On Literacy

I was utterly amazed to learn that an “American Idol” star had published a book, but was herself illiterate. That’s where I was when I learned the war on literacy was over. Sadly, we have all but lost. I offer a pocket of resistance, singularly mad, knowing full well that I will never be able to turn the tide in the battle against the erasure of the mind.

Yes, one can argue easily that my own limited success at publishing a story or two has simply made me jaded, and that all this is nothing more than a jealous rant. But I insist, the evidence is mounting. The very publishing industry itself has sold creativity and thought-provoking story for whatever will make the most money. Consider the works of the late Robert Ludlum – in particular, his Bourne Identity series. Recently, I picked up the fourth book, written by another author. I give this other author credit – the story kept my interest and was hard to put down. Not to mention the daunting task of trying to continue along the same lines of such a prolific writer as Ludlum was. But there were odd gaps in the storyline. I don’t know whether to blame the author, or to blame the publisher. For instance, in one scene (spoiler alert), the villain kisses his dying love interest. The detail is clear when the author states he tasted the salt from her tears. And yet, both characters were in biohazard suits. WTF? Did the author forget? It’s possible. I know from my own writing that if I don’t reread and reread what I have already written, I inevitably overlook some detail. But shouldn’t the publisher have caught this rather glaring mistake? Did the publisher even bother to read the manuscript?

That brings up a second evidentiary point: Amazon published the eBook manifesto of a pedophile. In their rush to turn profit and fulfill everyone’s fantasies of being a published author, who is guarding the gates? Who is reading the vast amounts of fiction and non-fiction flooding into the offices of literary agents and publishing houses at an astonishing rate? The answer, sadly, seems to be no one. Profit before prose!

Profit has always and will always drive the publishing industry. It’s what drives any industry. But I look at the books on display at the failing Borders and Barnes and Noble and think, “Who in their right mind would think such a book would be a good financial gamble?”

Magazines are no better. They, for the most part, have devolved into a publication of lists, not articles. The argument is that people today don’t have time to read articles, and prefer to get their information in neat little packets. But can the editors and writers for such publications actually consider themselves journalists? They just compile facts, or more often than not, make up something mildly humorous because doing so removes the burden of fact-finding, vetting stories, and actually knowing how to present an engaging article on a given subject matter.

If the bookstores want to save themselves, they must insist on bringing quality fiction and non-fiction to their shelves. To purchase X amount of stories against Y amount of returns only works so far. No wonder people don’t read. Why read a book that is rushed to market, without investing in the marketing or readership experience when TV, the Internet, and video games produce higher quality (or at least equal) end-user experiences?

These are just some thoughts that have been recurring.

Let me ask you this: Where were you when you realized the war on literacy was over?

Next Post: My Second Novel (Your Chance for Input).

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4 Responses to War On Literacy

  1. Tim Greening says:

    I’d like to pen a manifesto in defense of the twitterites and other short attention span heroes of the 21st century. I’m not sure if the war on literacy is over. I do think that we may be witnessing the birth of a new kind of literacy, call it hyperliteracy if you will. Clearly some in our generation (and many in the next generation of youngsters) have had their synapses re-wired by constant exposure to new forms of media. While I share your distress that something is being lost in this new media landscape, I’d like to suggest that maybe – just maybe – a new kind of critical thinking and literacy is emerging. This kind of literacy operates in a parallel processing mode rather than a serial processing mode. If seeks out and finds connections, links, hypertexts rather than following a linear sequence of thought. I am not saying that people should not be able to think deeply and sequentially, able to process complex ideas in sustained concentration. I am suggesting that being able to think in terms of short, interconnected webs of ideas might also have importance and utility.

    • You raise an interesting point about an emerging, new form of literacy [hyperliteracy]. I don’t discredit your viewpoint at all – in fact, I would say you are dead on. Lamentably, I don’t think American society will thrive in this new era. I look at things like Twitter being used to stage mass political protests in the developing world, but in the developed world, I am hard-pressed to find an example of historical significance. Conversely, we Tweet to have flash-mob snowball fights, or flash-mob dances. The potential is there, but the young only use it for entertainment. The old guard can’t help but reap profit from it. I suppose it’s up to middle generations to bridge the divide if hyperliteracy is going to be of any consequence.

  2. Hi,
    Thank you for starting to follow my arnnarn.com blog. I hope you continue to enjoy it.

    There is a book written by David Bianculli called Teleliteracy. In it he posits that todays population is no less literate than that in Charles Dickens’ time. He writes that Dickens’ work was the pulp fiction of its time, TV is its equivalent today. It’s interesting reading at the very least.

    Keep up the good fight though!

    Bruce

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, Bruce. I’ll have to look into the book. No doubt the modes of literacy have changed. Perhaps I’m really more at odds with how readily people assume what they see/hear is fact rather than researching things and coming to their own conclusions.

    Regardless, I’m looking forward to reading more on your blog.

    Best!

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