Critical Mass

1955 All Over Again?


“One of our universities recently made a survey of the reading habits of the American public; it decided that forty-eight percent of all Americans read, during a year, no book at all. I picture to myself that reader—non-reader, rather; one man out of every two—and I reflect, with shame: ‘Our poems are too hard for him.’ But so, too, are Treasure Island, Peter Rabbit, pornographic novels—any book whatsoever. The authors of the world have been engaged in a sort of conspiracy to drive this American away from books; have in 77 million out of 160 million cases, succeeded. A sort of dream situation often occurs to me in which I call to this imaginary figure, ‘Why don’t you read books?’—and he always answers, after looking at me steadily for a long time: ‘Huh?’

—from “Poetry and the Age,” by Randall Jarrell