Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby

Dismayed by the rapid decrease of reading, writing and intelligent discourse in America, Susan Jacoby has crafted an engaging, at times humorous, often depressing and always thought provoking book on the present, past and future of intellectualism in America.

I came into this book thinking that the author would be "preaching to the choir" and was surprised to come away looking hard at my own life for ways to change. Although I am an avid reader and consider myself, probably quite pompously, to be an intellectual, when I really started looking at how I spend my time, I found that there is room for improvement. Like most Americans, I still spend far too much time watching television, playing video games and surfing the web and nowhere near as much time as I'd like reading, thinking, creating or engaged in thought provoking conversation.

I have begun to make some changes in how I spend my free time but, as I read this book I kept thinking, "How can we change this trend?" The answer isn't so simple but, like fighting global warming, doing something is better than doing nothing. So, I hope anyone reading this will consider cutting by one third the time they spend each day watching television, reading more books, experiencing more life and, most important of all, doing all you can to encourage and help the children in your life to do the same. If you have children of your own, read to them every day and when they are old enough to read themselves, take them to the library every week. Make reading and talking and thinking the central aspects of your family life.

No, I haven't completely forsaken television or video games and this blog is proof that I still see the Internet as part of my entertainment/information mix. However I am trying to recommit myself to not only being an intellectual but to celebrating intellect and reason. I hope you will do the same and reading Susan Jacoby's book is as good a place to start as any.

At the beginning of this year, I made the decision to write about the books I read on this blog. My reasons at the time were to create a record, for me as much as anyone else, of the books that I read and what I thought of them. I also hoped it would cause me to read more books than I ordinarily would. I don't know if that's happened or not but, after reading "The Age of American Unreason," I feel like I have a new reason for writing about books in this space. As much as anything else, blogging is about the exchange of ideas, which gives us a unique opportunity to further the dialogue in this country. Here's hoping my little corner of the blogosphere can achieve that goal in some small way.

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