January 15, 2009

Precipitous Decline in Fiction Reading Reversed! Posted by Kate Flora Monday was a good news day for writers. I think. These days, you almost need a statistician in your pocket to understand many of the things that get reported. But here's what we did learn: The National Endowment for the Arts, using data from a United States Census Bureau "Survey of Public Participation in the Arts" conducted in 2008, reported that, for the first time since 1982, the proportion of adults 18 and older who said they had read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the previous twelve months has risen. That is one book. One story. One poem. One play. This is pretty depressing good news, I think. Indeed, as one of those wonky kids who spent her formative years with her nose buried in a book, I find it hard to imagine what people who don't read do with all their time. I've spent a lot of the past year doing obligatory reading. Reading books for others to help them with their craft. Reading books by authors I'm going to be on panels with. Reading my friend's new books. And reading a whole lot of nonfiction to learn about various aspects of crime solving, crime scene investigation, interviewing and interrogation technique, or reading books set in a particular region to get a feel for how local writers describe it. But all of that is reading. And I listen to books on tape so regularly that I almost didn't buy the car I got because it only took one CD at time, and I do a lot of driving. In fact, when I finish a book, I head straight for the library to get another. I almost can't drive unless someone reads to me. The New York Times article reporting this exciting news goes on to give more detail. "The proportion of adults reading some kind of so-called literary work--just over half--is still not as high as it was in 1982 or 1992, and the proportion adults reading poetry and drama continued to decline. Nevertheless, the proportion of overall literary reading increased among virtually all age groups, ethnic and demographic categories since 2002. It increased most dramatically among 18-24 year-olds, who had previously shown the most significant declines." I hear pretty often from people who feel like they need to increase the number of books they read. People whose lives have gotten so busy or out of control that they genuinely do lack the time to sit down and read. These are people who long to read. Who have a stack of books waiting for them to get a break. But what do the people who don't read do with their time? Obviously, dear reader, you can't answer this question because you're here, reading this. But I'm curious: Do you know people who don't read? Who don't share our passion for getting lost in story, for experiencing the ways that good writers can transport us to their worlds, or who don't long to be shown new ways to think about things, or to be given surprising insights into human behavior? If the people jamming up public spaces, or drifting out of their lanes and failing to go when the light turns green are any indication, a whole lot of people are spending a whole lot of their time talking on their cell phones. The person who blocks an entire display of men's shirts, pacing back and forth, phone jammed to ear, as they ask, "Does John like the green or the blue, do you think? And he's a large, right? No? He's an extra large. Gosh. I'm surprised. I would of thought John was a large. You're sure he's an extra large? I mean, you're really sure about that right? Because I would of thought..." I give up and go find something else for my poor threadbare husband to wear. I know he's a medium. I don't need to call up anyone and ask. Dana Gioia, chairman of The National Endowment for the Arts, attributes this increase in reading, in part, to series like Harry Potter and Twilight, and also to community-based reading programs. I'm hoping that Mr. Gioia is right, because this month I have the very special honor of being an author whose book has been chosen for a community-based reading program. My book, I confess, is neither literary nor fiction. It is the powerful, insider's view of a real murder, co-written with a career police officer who is now the acting police chief of Portland, Maine. FInding Amy: A True Story of Murder in Maine, i s the 2009 selection for Penobscot County, Maine's Penobscot Reads program. As part of that program, the incredible Bangor librarians have put together a whole month of program focusing on crime scene investigation, safety for women, and the wardens and search and rescue dogs who helped to find Amy's body and ensure a successful prosecution. (At right is one of my personal heroes, Lt. Patrick Dorian of the Maine Warden Service, speaking at the Bangor Public Library.) Here's a link to Lt. Dorian on TV. Like Dana Gioia, I'm hoping that community reading programs encourage more people to read, and like him, I believe that the individual efforts of librarians does help to get more people to read, in whatever medium. So as we head into the dark months, at least up here in New England, I'm planning to do a lot of reading, just as soon as I finish the book I'm writing. And I'm in Chapter 33. I'm always looking for another good book, so tell me: What are you reading right now and how did you choose it? And what's in your TBR pile? I've got my friend Hallie Ephron's new book, Never Tell a Lie, and Jan Brogan's new book, Teaser ,and I can't wait to get started. (And if you want to be intrigued, go to Jan's website, www.Janbrogan.com, and watch the video trailer for Teaser.)
My New Love Affair posted by Leann Sweeney Every family is different. I know people who buy new cars every year or at least once in their lifetime. But at our house we don't buy new cars and the used cars we get, we drive until they die. Every major purchase is checked and rechecked with Consumer Reports and these days, we also hunt for reviews on other websites. A collection of comments from people who have actually bought and used something we want to buy and use is reassuring. Some of this "how to buy it" philosophy makes perfect sense and I adhere to it and do my research. But there is a certain joy in the spontaneity of just getting something you need without checking reports on every screw or dial or electrical cord. As you have probably guessed, I am the one who would like a little more spontaneity. But when my twenty-three-year-old dryer decided to take all day and into the next to dry a load of jeans, it was time to pull up Consumer Reports and get busy doing the research. I did my due diligence but while I was looking at dryers, I kept thinking about my fifteen-year-old washing machine. How long before it bit the dust? And wouldn't it be nice not to have to cram my king size linens and quilts into said washer, then stop and mash the fabric down below the water line after the tub filled? These are things only I am concerned about, however. My husband's attitude has always been, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But I am reaching a milestone birthday this year and I have never had a washer and dryer that actually matched. He could care less, but I became a tad obsessed with the thought. Being a lonely writer does that to you, I guess. Objects become your friends. The new front loading machines considered "green" by all sources because use so much less water and electricity and caught my eye at once. And so did their super high price tags. But after the horrendous year I had in 2008, I was determined to treat myself (to appliances, no less) and my husband finally succumbed. The argument that persuaded him? "Do I go with you to buy a truck and tell you what you can and cannot have as far as bells and whistles? Color? Mileage? Size?" Yup. That sealed it because I have never once told him what he can and cannot have. Trucks are his business and since I do the laundry, the washer and dryer are my territory. These newer models are handsome, to say the least. Thanks to Consumer Reports I had a short list, but until I went to Sears, I'd only seen pictures. I fell in love the minute I walked into the appliance department. Every machine had something special, but Sears was very proud of their "elite" line. I just couldn't reconcile that price tag with my conscience. But I think I found something better and I bought them in an elite color--champagne. They are from the GE Profile line and were on sale with a nice chunk of change off the price. But it wasn't until I got them home and started playing with them that I fell completely head over heels. The computers in each machine "talk" to each other. The washer relays the weight of the load to the dryer and then the dryer determines how long the cycle should last. Cool, huh? And then there is the stain evaluator. Forty different stains are programmed in. You punch a few buttons and voila, you have the correct cycle for a particular stain. We did dirty shirt cuffs and collars on Saturday and it worked like a charm. Am I in love? Oh yeah. And here are my new best friends.

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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