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The Death of Reading

Dear Readers:

I consider myself an entertainer first and foremost and adhere to Ernest Hemingway’s dictum that, regarding novels, if you want to send a message, go to Western Union.

But there still are issues I occasionally wish to share my thoughts on, and I’ve taken the opportunity several times recently to climb up on a soapbox at various literary conferences and offer my thoughts on one subject of particular interest to writers. I thought I’d share it with visitors to my web site as well.
— J.W.D.

The Death of Reading

By Jeffery Deaver

I’ve got what I think is the very best job.
I have no commute; I can dress like a slob.
I get paid to make up things–isn’t that neat?–
Just like at the White House and 10 Downing Street.

Only in my case there’s no dereliction.
In fact, lying’s expected when you’re writing fiction.
So imagine my horror, imagine my fear
When I read in the press that the end was near.

But not Armageddon or crazed terrorists.
No, the death of reading was the article’s gist.
Teachers and parents and critics all share it:
That like Monty Python’s proverbial parrot

Reading is dead, deceased, pushing up daisies.
People are growing increasingly lazy,
lured by the siren of electronic toys
That fill up their lives with meaningless noise.

A thousand new ways to fill up our time
With distractions we worship like gods in a shirne:
YouTube, Facebook, big-screen TVs
And mobile phones smarter than I’ll ever be.

Now, if people are no longer going to read,
Ergo, writers are something that nobody needs.
This made my heart tremble and made my hands shake
And I considered what other jobs I might take.

But looking for work to find something new,
I decided that I all I could possibly do
Involved making lattes and learning to say,
“Let me tell you about our specials today.”

So before heading off to my overpriced shrink,
I decided it might be best to rethink
these terrible rumors that we’ve all heard
About the demise of the written word.

Now, if truly readers are dying off fast,
That suggests there were masses of them in the past,
But I can hardly imagine when that might have been.
Who had, after all, any time to read when

You were fighting off lions with your bare hands
And wandering nomadic across desert sands.
True, reading wasn’t past everyone’s reach,
But stone tablets weren’t popular reads at the beach.

In ancient Rome, yes, people read more,
But not mass-market scrolls from their local drug store.
And Latin, oh, please . . . once your lessons were done
Your life span was over, and your neighbors were Huns.

In medieval times, there was always the hope
That you might learn to read–if you worked for the Pope,
Or you were a royal or other elite,
Which left everyone else up illiterate creek

Then Gutenberg invented movable letters,
Making access to books a little bit better.
Though another small problem existed, of course,
That the smallest of books cost more than your horse.

Victoria’s queen; tuppence novels arrive.
And everywhere interest in reading thrives.
But despite what the doomsayers might be wishing,
The data show Dickens sold far less than Grisham.

Well, if the past hardly proves what the critics say,
Then how ’bout the state of reading today?
To find out if no one reads anymore
I looked over, where else, some local book stores,

Which, despite some attrition, was jammed to the gills,
And virtually every shelf was filled
With books on more subjects than I knew existed
And dozens of posters on which were listed

Upcoming visits by writers galore,
Who’d read to their fans right there in the store:
Lit’rature, poems, true crimes about killers
And self-help and travel, and–oh, yeah–thrillers.

And if retail stores turn you into a grouch,
You don’t even need to get off your couch.
Click on Amazon’s site and browse online
For ten million titles, all day long, any time.

A few years ago when I was downtown,
Doing some shopping, just strolling around
I nearly died in a massive stampede
Of children, no less, in desperate need

To purchase their latest heart’s desire,
No batteries required, no software, no wires,
A book’s what they sought and they’d waiting all day.
Who’s this Harry Potter guy, anyway?

We love reading so much that the books we now see
Are changing from what they used to be.
Paper and ink have just been transformed,
To pixels we read in digital form.

And, instead of meeting some horrible fate,
Last year book sales rose an astonishing rate,
A million new titles, to look at the stats.
And, no, this is not an alternative fact.

So forgive me, the ghosts of Lake Windermere,
And all other poets that we hold so dear,
Not to mention the late and the great Dr. Suess,
For my rhyming transgressions and rhythmic abuse,

But I simply couldn’t sit back and ignore
This lie that nobody reads anymore.
And I’ll share some more proof that there’s nothing to fear:
Why, just look around at our gathering here.

You could be dining or napping or hanging in bars,
Or flipping through channels for Dancing with Stars.
But no, you’ve come here, whatever it took,
For something immortal . . . the passion for books.

© 2018 Jeffery W. Deaver

(Please feel free to print this and share it provided it’s attributed to Jeffery Deaver and the copyright symbol is included.)

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