Category Archives: meta

NEA Reports “Reading on the Rise”

After such early-’00s favorites as "Reading at Risk," which warned of an increasingly marginal status for the literary in America, the NEA is reportedly now releasing a report entitled "Reading on the Rise." The Washington Post:

For the first time since the NEA began surveying American reading habits in 1982 — and less than five years after it issued its famously gloomy "Reading at Risk" report — the percentage of American adults who report reading "novels, short stories, poems or plays" has risen instead of declining: from 46.7 percent in 2002 to 50.2 percent in 2008.

"Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy" is the triumphant headline on the new report. In a preface, outgoing NEA Chairman Dana Gioia called it a "turning point in recent American cultural history" and emphasized that "the most significant growth has been among young adults," the group previously showing the biggest reading declines.

Certainly good news, but a four-point uptick is certainly conclusive evidence of "turning point in recent American cultural history." We’ll have to wait for the actual report from the NEA, but I’d like to verify that the four percent change isn’t within the margin of error for both studies. And while a 4 percent increase is better than a 4 percent decline, both stats are still largely down from the 57 percent recorded in 1982, and even the 54 percent in 1992.

The New York Times is also reporting this story, with a little data from beneath the topline figures:

Among ethnic groups the latest report found that the proportion of literary reading increased most for what the study classifies as Hispanic Americans, rising to 31.9 percent in 2008 for adults 18 and over, from 26.5 percent in 2002. The highest percentage of literary reading was among whites, at 55.7 percent, up from 51.4 percent in 2002. The rate of literary reading among men 18 and older increased to 41.9 percent in 2008, from 37.6 percent in 2002. The proportion also increased among women, to 58 percent in 2008, from 55.1 percent in 2002.

At the same time the survey found that the proportion of adults who said they had read any kind of a book, fiction or nonfiction, that was not required for work or school actually declined slightly since 2002, to 54.3 percent from 56.6 percent.

Best Translation Microsite

The folks at Rochester have put together a microsite for the Best Translation Award. Pretty nice.

In announcing the site, Chad says that:

I’m sure this happens with other awards as well, but I have to say that
the experience of reading a lot of this longlist titles one after
another has been pretty amazing. All of the titles that made the list
are incredibly well done, and each time I finish one, I end up
reordering my personal top 10 . . . Not everyone has the time or desire
to do this, but if you do decide to undertake a project like this, I
guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

I’ll agree that it has been a pretty intense process, especially now that I’m in the death-march portion of events. (I think I read four books last week.) I’ve already meted out a four-book nonfiction buffer for after I finish the longlist.

Although I don’t have quite the high opinion of the longlist that Chad does, I will say that this has been a very rewarding undertaking. On the negative side, while I haven’t come across any outright dogs there is a fair amount of material that I consider overwhelmingly mediocre.

On the postivie side, there’s definitely a lot of very good books here, and I’m very pleased to have been force-fed a number of them. It looks like there will be more than ten titles competing to be on my shortlist, and I do think it will be difficult to order the ten I do finally settle on.

Holiday Books 2008

So this is what was either gifted to me or that I subsequently purchased in conjunction with the holidays this year:

To Siberia by Per Petterson
In the Woods by Tana French
Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth
True to Life by Lawrence Weschler
Alphabet Juice by Roy Blount, Jr.
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
Selected Verse by Federico Garcia Lorca
Fin-de-Siecle Vienna by Carl E. Schorske
Music Theory by George Thaddeus Jones
The Joy of Music by Leonard Bernstein
What to Listen for in Music by Aaron Copland

For more on what readers of this blog received during the holidays, see this thread.

And to see what readers of this blog bought during 2008, go here.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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