Spring is on the way

molting goldfinch


Even more than the blooming crocus, the regoldening goldfinches always mean spring to me.

© 2008 by Mary Daniels Brown


To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence

To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence [pdf]

Click to access ToRead.pdf

In 2004, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) published their groundbreaking report, “Reading at Risk,” which took a critical look at voluntary reading patterns and test scores, and revealed some rather dire trends along the way. November 2007 saw the publication of another thought-provoking report, “To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence.” This 100-page report offers a comprehensive analysis of reading patterns of children, teenagers, and adults in the United States. The report draws on data from over 40 sources, including federal agencies, universities, foundations, and associations. The report includes an executive summary, introduction, and three sections: “Youth Voluntary Reading Patterns,” “What the Declines Mean for Literacy,” and “Why More than Reading is at Risk.” Alternately enlightening and troubling, this report will be of great interest to policymakers, educators, librarians, and countless other parties.

>From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout Project 1994-2008.


Couples turn reading into a joint venture

Couples turn reading into a joint venture |

For most people, reading is a solitary, silent act. But some couples also turn it into a joint venture by reading aloud. Their literary equation is: 2 people 1 book = shared pleasure. Whatever the season, whatever the subject, it’s their personal version of an audiobook.No one pretends this is a widespread pastime. But talk to couples who do it and their enthusiasm is obvious. In addition to broadening their reading, they find it creates a bond that doesn’t happen when they sit passively in front of the TV.

Readings by the couples interviewed by Christian Science Monitor columnist Marilyn Gardner include authors such as P.G. Wodehouse and Charles Dickens, works such as The Medusa and the Snail, Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Bible, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. “Discussion is a word that comes up again and again as couples describe the joys of reading together.”

I still prefer audiobooks. We always bring several audiobooks along on road trips. One of our favorite memories is of the time when, driving from St. Louis to Florida for our daughter’s swim meet, the three of us sat in the parking lot of a gas station to finish listening to a suspenseful part of Clear and Present Danger before killing the engine. But I just don’t think reading aloud for a long time in a moving car is a pleasant way to travel. I’d rather let someone else do the reading.

My husband and I often enjoy the same books, but we each listen separately and then discuss the books when we’ve both finished listening to them. Logistically, this just works better for us, since we both listen to books on our iPods while driving, exercising, and doing household chores. Recently we’ve listened to and discussed In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. My husband has already finished listening to Ken Follett’s new book, World Without End, and I have it coming up next on my books playlist. After I finish it, I expect we’ll have a lot to discuss.


More on the Most Literate Cities in the U.S.

Back in late December I reported on the most literate cities in the U.S.

Here’s some more news from the Central Connecticut State University’s report

The bad news:

  • One of the most disturbing trends is that while Americans are becoming more and more educated in terms of their time spent in school and their education level accomplished, they are decreasing in terms of literate behaviors. This is particularly obvious in our lack of support of bookstores and the constantly diminishing circulation of newspapers.
  • We are also supporting local bookstores far less often.

But there’s also some good news:

  • Per capita publication of magazines in the United States increased in 87 percent of the cities studied.
    Libraries are staying even, with the number of library buildings, volumes in the collection, and circulation of books and other materials staying about steady in terms of the number of cities advancing and declining.
  • The internet explosion has also clearly taken effect with substantial growth of reading online. Almost all the cities have more free internet access points. More people are reading newspapers online and buying books online than in previous years.

In case you missed the rankings, here are the Top 10:


Overall Rank 2007

 06 Rank

 05 Rank

Minneapolis, MN 1 2 2
Seattle, WA 2 1 1
St. Paul, MN 3 5 9.5
Denver, CO 4 8 6
Washington, DC 5 3.5 3
St. Louis, MO 6 12 15
San Francisco, CA 7 9 5
Atlanta, GA 8 3.5 4
Pittsburgh, PA 9 6 8
Boston, MA 10 11 7
Obituaries Uncategorized

Mailer, Paley, Vonnegut: same era, different voices – Los Angeles Times

Mailer, Paley, Vonnegut: same era, different voices – Los Angeles Times

In a piece in the Los Angeles Times Morris Dickstein discusses three literary icons who died in 2007:

American fiction lost three of its most warmly admired figures this year, all dead at the age of 84 after long careers. Critics love the idea of literary generations, but it would be a challenge to find themes or ideas to link the disparate work of Norman Mailer, Grace Paley and Kurt Vonnegut. At a Paris Review gala last spring, Mailer spoke about Hemingway’s enormous influence despite his inability to portray a convincing woman character (a charge sometimes leveled at Mailer himself). Hemingway made up for it, he said, by creating a style. In more modest ways, this could be said about Mailer, Paley and Vonnegut as well. No one would mistake a paragraph of theirs for the prose of another writer.

Dickstein focus on “something these contemporaries . . . had in common: a sense of the breakdown of the novel, blurring the lines between literary fiction and autobiography, but also poetry in Paley’s case, science fiction for Vonnegut, journalism and social criticism for Mailer.”

Of Mailer, Dickstein says, “For all his public antics, Mailer’s most memorable exploits took place in the arena of the sentence: arresting metaphors, paradoxical speculations, physical details that made a personality tangible.”

He says “Paley created a distinctive female voice” and also “was dead serious about leftist politics, to which she devoted as much energy as to writing and teaching.”

And Vonnegut “saw himself as an ordinary Joe with a small, peculiar gift.”

“With their accumulated wisdom, these three writers’ living presence mattered, but we might miss them more if they had not left so much behind.”


Good News for Libraries

Pew Internet: Information Searches That Solve Problems

There’s good news for libraries in a report issued yesterday of a joint project by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign. The topic of the study was how Americans approach problems that might be linked to government:

The problems covered in the survey: 1) dealing with a serious illness or health concern; 2) making a decision about school enrollment, financing school, or upgrading work skills; 3) dealing with a tax matter; 4) changing a job or starting a business; 5) getting information about Medicare, Medicaid, or food stamps; 6) getting information about Social Security or military benefits; 7) getting information about voter registration or a government policy; 8 ) seeking helping on a local government matter such as a traffic problem or schools; 9) becoming involved in a legal matter; and 10) becoming a citizen or helping another person with an immigration matter.

The Internet topped respondents’ list of resources they used to find answers to problems such as these, with 58% of people polled saying that they had consulted the Internet either at home, at work, or at a library.

The study also yielded some surprising facts about library use:

The survey results challenge the assumption that libraries are losing relevance in the internet age. Libraries drew visits by more than half of Americans (53%) in the past year for all kinds of purposes, not just the problems mentioned in this survey. And it was the young adults in tech-loving Generation Y (age 18-30) who led the pack. Compared to their elders, Gen Y members were the most likely to use libraries for problem-solving information and in general patronage for any purpose.

Most surprising was the heavy library use by Gen Ys, who have grown up with technology. The survey also found out that Internet users are more likely than non-users to patronize libraries (68% to 21%).

“These findings turn our thinking about libraries upside down. Librarians have been asked whether the internet makes libraries less relevant. It has not. Internet use seems to create an information hunger and it is information-savvy young people who are the most likely to visit libraries,” noted Leigh Estabrook, Dean and Professor Emerita at the University of Illinois, co-author of a report on the results.


The Most Literate Cities in the U.S.

Minneapolis Ousts Seattle as Most Literate City

The folks at The Seattle Times are lamenting their city’s fall from the top spot of the annual list of most literate cities in the U.S.

The rankings, originated and authored by CCSU’s [Central Connecticut State University] president John W. Miller, compare the country’s 69 biggest cities in terms of libraries, bookstores, educational levels, newspaper readership, locally published magazines and Internet resources.

The article lists the top 10 most literate cities. Notables that didn’t make the top 10 include Baltimore, New York, and Los Angeles.


Welcome to the new Notes in the Margin Weblog!

I have just taken a drastic action: I deleted all previous Notes in the Margin Weblog entries in order to install and use WordPress from now on.

It was quite a nostalgic moment for me. My earliest entries were from January 2002. Yes, that’s right–almost six years ago. I’m sure that just as much has happened in your life as has happened in mine since that time.

For me, the biggest change in that time was my return to school full time in September 2005. When I decided to work on my doctorate in psychology, I had to let new postings to my main site, Notes in the Margin, lapse.  There were two reasons for this: (1) I didn’t have time to write book reviews, and (2) I had almost no time for pleasure reading, which meant I didn’t have much to write about anyway. I’m still in school, and my pleasure reading is still limited to audiobooks, which I listen to while driving and while plodding away on the treadmill most afternoons. But I am beginning to see the light at the end of my educational tunnel, and I’m hoping to be able to return to Notes in the Margin in earnest within the next year or so.

I think of this change in the Weblog as the beginning of that process. I hope you’ll continue to look here for news and notes related to all things literary.

Thanks for reading.