Gioia was Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts when the agency did a large survey of the nation's reading habits. We've known for decades that people are reading less...and less...and less. Isn't this interesting, when a bachelor's degree is becoming more common? Just this week I heard of a young woman who has a degree, who flat-out refuses to read anything, saying, "I don't read," at the same time she declares that she must need to get a job, she is so bored. This in spite of having a lively young child.
The phenomenon links right in to another observation by a college professor I also heard on Mars Hill, that the vast majority of students of "higher education" today do not connect their studies to their life outside the classroom. When they are with their friends, they would never think of discussing a novel or wonder how the wisdom of the ancients applies today. Is reading a task they have only ever done to pass a test or please a teacher? One doesn't want to call what these people have undergone "education."
Still, there are those of us who read, and not out of duty! Not for escape, either. As it turns out--and this surprised Dana Gioia--people who have a rich internal life with books are more likely to be involved in their communities and do volunteer work than non-readers. Reading is not truly a solitary activity, because the reader and the writer are interacting, and as the reader's interior world is enlarged, his engagement with his fellow humans broadens accordingly.
The research gives a lot to think about--and I would write down my thinking, too, if I weren't embarking more intensely now on a very different sort of work, that of remodeling our kitchen and downstairs floors and ceilings. Just look at this bookcase that has been denuded! A pitiful sight.
It marks only the beginning of the destruction and deconstruction and disorder around here. My computer will be moved to another room, not as handy. I will be packing and packing, and scraping and painting, and cooking without a kitchen. Then I will be unpacking and setting up my home again. Though it's certain I won't give up reading altogether for this while, I must think of the next few months as more in the realm of doing good in "my community."
Every Lent presents a new challenge, because even if our circumstances or station in life might be the same as last year, rare enough as that is, we as individuals have changed from last year's season of the fast. As I heard the exhortation at Matins this morning that we would show compassion on the needy, it confirmed the idea that had been growing on me, that this house project is not this year's distraction from Lent, but provides a perfect setting for me to learn compassion.
Having my house torn up and chaotic, wondering which task I should do next and where I stashed the item I didn't think I would need but now I do--all this causes me anxiety. But my poor husband suffers more, I am certain, and he needs me to show compassion and patience and love.
It wouldn't hurt me to pray the Lenten Prayer of St Ephrem throughout the days of my opportunity:
O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother;
For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.