Tuesday, January 22, 2008

When One Reads

Henrietta and I would ride together. We used to joke, at maybe thirty miles into a forty-mile ride, that we could make a mint by marketing a line of energy bars that included ibuprofen. "Sore-Ass Bars" or something like that.

Because in the winter road cycling was impossible we tried to make the best of it in the warmer weather. As soon as the road crews had cleared the winter sand-deposits from the back mountain roads we'd be off at every chance. We'd change into ridiculous cycling shorts in the bathroom at work and then get our bikes off our cars and just go there from the hospital parking lot.

But this is not a nurse-bicycling-off-work-stress post. This is about the decline of reading books. Don't the two go hand-in-hand?

Most people do not read books. Few buy books. Magazines, okay. Computer text, sure. A lot of that is total bullshit, of course.

From the NEA report cited in the CBS News link:

"The drop in reading was widespread: among men and women, young and old, black and white, college graduates and high school dropouts. The numbers were especially poor among adult men, of whom only 38 percent read literature, and Hispanics overall, for whom the percentage was 26.5.

The decline was especially great among the youngest people surveyed, ages 18 to 24. Only 43 percent had read any literature in 2002, down from 53 percent in 1992."

I'm habitually in a few books at a time. My current reading:

Founding Myths, Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past, by historian Ray Raphael. Paul Revere didn't do that. Oh well.

Star of the Storm, by Joan Hiatt Harlow. My kid insisted. And I luuurrves me dogs.

All You Really Need to Know to Interpret Arterial Blood Gasses, by Lawrence Martin. Sheesh. What can I say?

Johann Sebastian Bach, His Life in Pictures and Documents, by Hans Corad Fischer. For my latest birthday my spouse got me a set of recordings of all the known works of J.S.Bach. There are sixty CD's just of the Cantatas. That represents about half of those he wrote because a good bunch of them are lost. The set contains one-hundred-fifty-five CD's of Bach's known production.

Typically a "cantata" for Bach meant about twenty to thirty minutes of church music. Often more. He composed one for every Sunday for a couple decades. That's like churning out an "album," in rock-speak, every two weeks. It's an incredible output. Each is like a little opera on liturgical themes. That's probably why he never got around to writing and actual opera; he wrote the equivalent monthly.

The freaking bastard. You have to envy that kind of genius.

But now only about five percent of recording sales go to classical music in general, and I worry that a good amount of that goes to pure dreck like... well, no need to cite names here. (Ahem! Sarah, the blind Italian, and that asshole Rieu, for example.)

So people don't read books. That's too bad. They don't listen, either.

I like knowing about drugs that I give people. For example, I've blogged about the centuries-old origin of morphine.

Maybe I'll do one on digoxin, or beta-blockers (which are only about forty-five years old.) Some guy called Sir James Black had a hand in their development.

Digoxin of course, like morphine, comes from flowers.

It's good to read different things.

Books are very good for long forms like essays, novels, poetry collections, histories, or biographies. Magazines are good for short illustrated articles. Computers are good for just about everything except long forms. I would not want to read Paradise Lost by scrolling through web-pages.

Paradise Lost is where the term "pandemonium" originated. Milton invented it to describe the loosing of all the ruined angels, malcontents, nascent Irishmen, and others that made up the hordes gathered in rebellion against god by archangel Michael.

Such are all children.

Such is my child, and I could not be happier.

1 comment:

wunelle said...

Uh-oh. I'm currently listening to... an audiobook (*he cringes*) of... (*he cringes further*) a Star Wars sci-fi novel. What a waste of time!

But I'm also reading (still) Richard Evans' second volume on the history of Nazism in Germany, and a Raymond Chandler novel, and I have a fabulous book on the planets by Dava Sobel on standby!

What a gift from the spousal unit! Bach is absolutely unfathomable. I've been scrutinizing him with some care now for almost three decades and if all his music were suddenly eradicated I could not reconstruct even the simple pieces.

His mind is light years beyond mine.