If only . . . .

If only . . . .
If only . . . .


. . .or click on the link here for Audio Player – Chicago University Roundtable – The Neglect of Reading – 1957 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

Even in 1957 Americans were reading less. Not the rest of the world; just the U.S. – we were a distracted bunch, even then. Bookstores were rare commodities; an estimated some 15,000 in the U.S., concentrated mostly in major metropolitan areas of New York and California. The rest of the country, not so much.

People were reading less in the way of books, but paying more attention to other media. TV, Magazines and Radio were fast-turning the library into a faded relic. In 1957.

And what was that making us? A little less smart, a little less worldly, a little more isolated. While we were making technological advances, our literacy skills were slipping. The grasp of our own language was loosening. Forget we were no longer willing to learn other languages or be interested in other cultures – we were struggling with our own. In 1957.

Books were losing out to all the shiny new objects – that ability to turn on the TV and be transported someplace else without effort was dazzling and addicting. To have our imaginations configured by someone else, someplace else, who had done all the reading for us. We no longer needed to explore, really – we could let it play out without lifting a finger or looking up a word.

And that worried people in 1957.

We were in grave danger of losing our individuality because we were giving up reading. And in giving up on reading we were giving up our curiosity.

Yes, those mundane things printed on paper with words and ideas and points of view were rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

And that was in 1957.

So 57 years ago they discussed it. It became a topic of conversation, and this edition of the weekly radio program Chicago University Roundtable attempted to find some solution. Maybe it wasn’t that bad – maybe it was worse. What could be done about it?

As a reminder of just how precarious our culture is, and maybe always has been, here is that episode of The Chicago University Roundtable, entitled The Neglect Of Reading, first aired on February 3rd 1957.

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2 thoughts on “The Neglect Of Reading – 1957 – Past Daily Weekend Reference Room

  1. That’s a marvelous Twain quote, and a marvelous sight to see it so assertively displayed on (I assume) a bookshop window. It reminds me of a rather sad remark I heard a few decades ago from a UK publisher, in pre-conglomerate days. His firm publisheed a lot of biographies, and he said that a tragic fact was that, although these generally sold well and often exceptionally so, a major proportion of the copies bought were never in fact read. People would buy a biography of, say, Dickens, on the (spurious) basis that by reading the biography they could “do” Dickens without having to read any of Dickens’s own works; then, having bought the biography, they felt, equally spuriously, that they didn’t have to actually read it in order to absorb its biographicy goodness; they just had to own the thing, and the goodness would sort of osmote through the covers into them.

    I’m sure that wasn’t quite what Twain meant!

    My own impression, by the way, is that in the US kids (10-18) are reading more than the generations immediately before them. Or maybe it’s just that those who do read are reading more.

    1. I would like to hope so. And I think you may be right. I do see more kids reading and that’s a positive sign. You can’t believe anything you see via mainstream media.

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