Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Are People Reading Less? and the First Amendment

Paul Yamazaki, head buyer at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, spoke at the Oxford Conference of the Book. City Lights is the most famous bookstore in America because of it's willingness to publish liberal and controversial books.

They were involved in a case against author Allen Ginsberg for his novel Howl. People thought it was obscene and would corrupt America's youth so he and the bookstore's manager were arrested. Can you believe that? This was a famous case that shaped our understanding of the First Amendment.

I have high moral scruples and I've read many books I don't think should have been published, but readers should be able to read whatever they want. I'm just shocked anyone would want to read certain things. So, regardless of how "immoral" Howl may or may not be, the fact that he was arrested for an idea is appalling. America, fail.

The panelist asked Paul Yamazaki if the bookstore carries Sarah Palin's books. Yamazaki laughed uncomfortably because he knew where he was going with this.

"No, we don't represent her."

"Don't you feel that's a form of censorship?"

He went on to explain that they had limited space and they didn't feel right providing books they didn't believe in. That's a fascinating question, and I'd like to hear some of your opinions. I don't think he was in the wrong because people still have the freedom to read Sarah Palin. It's not like City Lights is the only place to buy books. They aren't forbidding conservative literature. Also, they're a private company and should be able to buy whatever they want. I feel the same way about Banned Books in schools... it's not like kids don't have access to bookstores and public libraries.

They opened up for questions and I mentioned Borders closing. "Many authors are panicking because they believe this is a sign that people are reading less. In your experience, have you noticed a decline in how much people read?"

I wish I had recorded his answer, because it was fantastic. He said he's noticed a growth of not just readers, but deep literacy. There's been an exciting boom of young authors and readers. Because they're so well-versed in technology, they become more involved and therefore more knowledgeable. He also said that despite the fact that this large demographic is raised on technology, youth still appreciate novels in their traditional, physical form.

I realized the answer should have been obvious. YA literature is huge right now. I would like to know how many YA books are published each year; I'd bet it's close to the amount of adult books. Authors are getting younger and younger because they are reading more and getting prepared earlier. There are more resources available to us and more opportunities for growth than ever before.

Our generation is powerful. We're starting companies our parents never could have imagined. College students are becoming millionaires. We have more influence now than ever before. Paul Yamaziki mainly referred to 15-16 year-olds; a new and even more powerful generation is emerging.

It's exciting.

3 comments:

  1. Great post. It was fun to read, and very encouraging :D

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  2. Loved this post! There are some really interesting questions here.

    Believe it or not, but the U.S. does allow for censorship and prosecution of authors/publishers in extreme circumstances (seditious material -- I can't remember the exact definition right now, but it's not what you normally think about when you hear the phrase. I'll get the full definition if you like.) The best example I can think of is a book that was banned a while back (I think it was in the '60s or '70s) because it gave detailed instructions on how to commit a murder without getting caught. Surprise, surprise! Not long after the book came out, there were several murders committed in the exact manner described in the book.

    As far as City Lights not carrying Sara Palin's book, I don't think there's anything to discuss there. It's the bookstore's right to carry or not to carry whatever books it wants. Although I think it's kind of odd that they'd carry a book like Howl over something like Sara Palin's book. (Then again, I haven't read either one, so I can't exactly judge.)

    Great post! Keep it up!

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  3. Reece, that's an interesting point! I have mixed feelings on censorship and I go back and forth, and now you've thrown a wrench in my opinions. I can't believe anyone would write a book about murder.

    I wish people just didn't like crap, and then this wouldn't be an issue.

    The reason they won't carry Sara Palin's book but they would carry Howl is simple: politics. They don't carry conservative literature, and Howl leans more toward the liberal party. The kind of people that like Howl don't like Sara Palin.

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