The people who don’t get out much.
That’s how I see people who don’t read fiction. Apparently, 42% of college graduates never read another book after college; 33% never read another book after high school for the rest of their lives.
These are the people who have never been to debtor’s prison with Lil’ Dorritt, who never followed the silver-tongued Long John on a fool’s quest for treasure, who never kept reading, past all understanding, to find out why Colonel Aurelio Buendia would eventually face the firing squad.
If you haven’t fought the battle of Borodino or stared across the bay from West to East Egg, been To the Lighthouse or On the Road, married Mr. Darcy or Mr. Rochester or even Rhett Butler, then you’ve never really been anywhere at all.
Do you know what it means to cut for stone? Who lives atop the Yacoubian Building? What happens to Birds Without Wings?
Did no one ever teach you of the One Ring? Warn you of Muggles? Open the door of the Wardrobe?
Apparently there are millions upon millions of people who know nothing of these things. Who know only their own here and now, the people next door and down the street. People who are barely aware that the view might be different in Yoknapatawpha County or on God’s Little Acre or from a Ship of Fools.
That ignorance of these things is the only way I can explain some of the scarier stories we hear today from our fellow citizens about the horrors that await us with gay marriage and abortion rights and efforts to combat global warming. And the even scarier people they find to represent them in the halls of power. The pistol-packing heroes they seem to celebrate without ever having read a Zane Gray or a Larry McMurtry.
Books have been banned, and even burned, in the small places in America. Both public schools and public libraries are under attack. It seems that there really is a 47% that pose a threat to our country and our way of life. The 47% who don’t get out much and who don’t want the rest of us to get out much either.
I hear a lot lately about how we are falling behind in math and science, and I’m sure that’s a real concern. But some of us should concern ourselves with getting people out more, taking them on road trips through human experience, set them down in the Snows of Kilimanjaro, on the Magic Mountain and Under the Volcano. Let them revisit Brideshead. Witness the bombing of Dresden. Wear a Scarlet Letter.
We all need to go places, do things, meet people. All we need is a little light, a few minutes before bedtime, and something that comes in its own little box with a nice cover. Books.