Reading Is Fundamental. Or Is It?

Ever since the NEA released a report bemoaning the decline of literature’s place in American life, defenders of the canon have leaped to reestablish reading as an essential part of life. And who could argue with that? Well, Mark Edmundson isn’t arguing, exactly, but he does have a few quibbles with the approach: “Reading, you hear, is necessary to maintain democracy. It can produce informed citizens. Right, but couldn’t public radio do the same thing? We hear that reading conveys knowledge; it delivers the bounty of the past to the present. Again, good, but in terms of pure rote knowledge, couldn’t film and verbal delivery work nearly as well?”