PHILADELPHIA REFLECTIONS
Musings of a Philadelphia Physician who has served the community for six decades

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New topic 2013-02-05 15:24:06 description

A Time to Read Books

{Retirement Reading}
Retirement Reading

BEFORE we talk about retirees reading books in a retirement community, reflect for a moment about reading in your own home during the working years. Most suburban homes do not have many books in evidence. It's possible to stand in the center of most suburban living rooms unable to see a single book, while it's hard not to see a television set. Increasingly, a home computer is only a few steps from the front door, but the evolution from desktop to laptop to portable telephone to tablet is too rapid to make generalizations. Everyone says books are going to disappear soon, and newspapers maybe even sooner. But there are still said to be a million books constantly in transit on 18-wheeler trucks between print shops and wholesale depositories, night and day. Right now, the producers, publishers and merchandizers of printed material are in turmoil and decline, so they talk about it a lot. But ultimately it is the reading public which will decide what it wants and force the suppliers to give it to them.

{reading}
reading

It seems to me that what the reading public wants most is to find time to read. The suburban home has so few books because the sort of person who lives in the suburbs to be near the school system, just doesn't have time to read after the day's work and commuting. Helicopter parents spend a lot of time hauling the kids to mandatory kid entertainments, as can easily be seen by driving past a high school in the afternoon and observing the lines of cars with waiting mothers. They make the best of it as a social occasion for mothers with shiny cars, but they really do it to be sure the kids don't get mixed up with recreational drugs. Anyway, they do it, and it all eats up their discretionary time for reading. Meanwhile, their's no local bookstore to buy books, even unread books. They may think they will catch up on their reading after they retire, but that's becoming increasingly unlikely in my observation. They are getting out of the habit of reading. By the time they retire, they will find it's almost like going back to school. You must find other readers, readers groups, conversations about books over the bridge table, books lying about. The first economy a struggling news paper makes is to cut down the size and number of book reviews, because there are no bookstores to take out advertising, and advertising is what pays for newspapers. There's one good feature about that; what book chatter there is, is not so confined to recent books. Some people are bookish and other people are golf-ish, and a growing number of people are simply TV-ish. It's a struggle to find time for work and the family, and books on top of that. No matter what level of reading the working people may be doing, it's declining in favor of deferred reading when they finally retire.

{Retirement Community}
Retirement Community

Having visited quite a number of retirement communities, I find the community's library is a good place to assess the institution and its typical inhabitant. When it's newly built, a library area is set aside, usually without many books. The first few waves of residents quickly fill up the space with books they brought from home. During the first ten years it is possible to guess what sort of person lives there by the books they brought and deposited, or died and left to the library. The space, more or less empty at first, gets full and something must be discarded. Enlarging the library is an economic issue, so the size at which it halts will to considerable degree reflect the willingness equilibrium to pay for new construction, both by the book lovers, and by the book enemies, the golfers and the administrators. Ultimately book congestion gets to the point where someone simply must cull out some old books to make room for the new. In another essay I have described the use of volunteers to exchange books of no lasting interest for more books of real interest to real residents, through a used-book exchange. But someone must organize the process, often recruited by an administrator who has learned to be horrified of construction which cannot be rented, but must be cleaned and cared for. If passive resistance is a new term to you, this is the place to learn about it. The residents have short memories, lack drive and follow-through. So inertia tends to win, and lack of reading feeds on itself because there is nothing to read. What's apparently needed here is an organization of bookish people that extends to all retirement communities, probably with a paid staff, an annual meeting, Internet connections. And therefore an immortality which can outlive and outlast the passive resistance. Good ideas then have a means to spread and help support other good ideas; somehow the costs must be supported until a few True Believers in Books can write a bequest in their wills to sustain it. And activate their intention, so to speak.

One of the largely unrecognized reasons for the success of the American Revolution was that the Colonies had a higher level of literacy than the Mother Countries. Thomas Paine, for example, printed 150,000 copies of Common Sense on the rickety old printing presses of the 18th century, when there were fewer than three million white inhabitants of the thirteen colonies. And who was mainly responsible for that? It was Benjamin Franklin with his invention and popularization of the lending library. If Ben could find time to start libraries in 1742, and Andrew Carnegie was later found willing to pay for dozens of them, surely the time and energy can be marshaled in the 21st century to establish a first-class library system throughout the retirement communities of the nation.

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