A Friday rant: I was talking with friends yesterday who told me that they haven’t read a book in years. “Maybe since grad school,” one said.

Friends, I can’t tell you how disheartening this is. I realize there are work schedules and kids and family obligations and things that come up, but to stop reading altogether??

I hear similar stories now and again, and no one ever thinks to explain themselves. They never stop and say, “Oh, you’re a writer, that’s right… Uh…” And they don’t think to lie awkwardly to me by saying that they’ve given up all reading except for mine. (I’m reminded of the Julia Roberts line in Pretty Woman when Vivian says, “When I’m with a guy, I’m like a robot, I just do it.” Then she looks at Edward and rolls her eyes and says, “Except for you.” And he smiles and says, “Of course not with me.”)

And every time this happens, I’m in polite company where I can’t exactly grill the non-reader on the whys and hows and ins and outs of their refusal to read. But mark my words here and now: I’m going to stop being so polite. I’ll start asking. My world, my love, depend on writing and knowing that there will be an audience there to gravitate to the words.

When IBM fired the bulk of their electrical engineers and logic designers last summer here in Rochester, they left a lot of very smart people out on the street to reinvent themselves. Is that what writers will have to do? Will the movies and videos of the world push us out so that if we’re not writing for the big screen we’re not being heard? Will we, gulp, go see the movie before we read the book?

The stark question presents itself: Will the writers write when there’s no one left to read?

photo-3That’s a sad state of affairs. But, ultimately, I think: Yes. We’ll continue. Bigger and better, even. We’re frivolous like that. We’re hopeful like that. We’re pure like that. Ultimately, we like to line the words up on the page. It doesn’t matter who’s looking.

With words, I can build worlds, solve puzzles, escape to new realms, fire up dormant emotions, and immerse myself in my own imagination. Some people need music, or art, or sound, or alcohol to do this (and more) for them. I get these things. I get launching into another place and allowing full possibility.

I remember learning to read as a small child and loving it. Life clicked for me. And I understand that some people don’t have the same love experience. We all know someone for whom reading is such a chore, and it’s possible that their numbers are increasing.

Please excuse my extreme curiosity here because I’m not trying to be rude but rather I just don’t know:

Where do they go in their minds?

What—what are they doing in there?

–J.B.

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