For those of you who care, the nominees for the National Book Award were recently announced. And among certain circles, there's been quite a bit of ensuing controversy. Of the five finalists, only one had sold as many as 2,500 copies. One book, Christine Schutt's "Florida", sold a measly 150 copies.
Now I'm not going to even get into how absurd this is in a year that saw new books from John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Phillip Roth, and Tom Wolfe. What I am disturbed about is how few people even care about reading anymore. According to the NEA, more than HALF the entire U.S. adult population doesn't look at ANY fiction, short stories, poetry or plays. EVER! What the hell happened?
I know many highly intelligent and extremely successful people here in NYC who never read. This never ceases to amaze me. How many times have you been in someone's home where they had a state-of-the-art video system and 50 DVDs--but not a single book? How is it possible to not have A SINGLE FUCKING BOOK? One book!!! Shit...buy a used one and leave it lying around so people don't think you're such a total dumb ass.
Listen, folks. I know you're all very busy with your lives. But really...the 4.2 hours of television you're watching EACH DAY? It's a little much.
The 34 hours you're spending surfing random web sites at home each month? I guess that's nothing compared to the 80 hours/month at work but still...
And the 700,000 of you who actually went to the movie theater to go see "Gigli"? What the fuck? You allergic to books or something?
Why is reading like Kryptonite to some people? Is it too hard? I know it's easier to sit on your ass and watch "Road Rules" but aren't you the least bit interested in pushing the limits of your intellect? Can video games really provide the escapism that you might better find in your own imagination? Is sitting in a chat room all night more enjoyable than discovering the commonality in reading about a character from another time or place? And really, hasn't the novelty of looking at Jenna Jamison's tits on the internet worn off by now?
Life's short, my friends. Carpe Diem. Thoreau once said that we should read the best books first or we might never get the chance to read them. Now, those expectations might be a little high. But try this. Next time you're bitching about how there's nothing on TV, pick up a book. Instead of buying a little kid a video game, give him a book you loved when you were his age. And this Christmas? Call me crazy but I really don't think Dad needs another fucking sweater with reindeers on it. Get him a book too.
Of course, I could be completely wrong. In which case, I apologize and leave you with the immortal words of Homer Simpson...
"How is reading supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive?
(This public service rant was brought to you by Johnnie Walker and the fine folks over at Phillip Morris.)