A sprawling, provocative conversation with loose ends that are the forgivable product of a literate mind grappling with big issues. The various meanings of ``mean'' and its derivatives are the foundation of Sanders's (Sudden Glory, 1995, etc.; English/Pitzer Coll.) exploration of public discourse, and additional touchstones range from Huck Finn to the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. Mostly obituary but part prescription, this volume offers the basic argument that life has turned mean with the draining of meaning from public discourse. The private, interior life rooted in the literacy acquired through reading and writing has been lost through hours of staring at screens; reading a book is a private act, while watching TV blurs the distinction between public and private. Without an interior space offering distance from the immediate moment, reflection, thought, and the potential for meaningful participation in public discourse disappears. Life becomes the mindless pursuit of gratification, and ``gratification knows only one tense, the present.'' In this world the quintessential public spaces where everyone interacts on an equal footing are prisons and casinos, and pseudo-discourse replaces democratic discussion: ``Bluster passes for expansiveness, rant for power.'' The antidote for this depressingly convincing description of American society is a rebuilding of the country, ``a liberation through language.'' To regenerate public discourse, however, people must turn off their televisions and rebuild their inner lives by talking, reading, and writing. Unfortunately, Sanders describes nothing that suggests this will happen. Perhaps there is hope in what is missing: His historical account of the loss of interior life, as well as the connection between literacy and space--terms used metaphorically as well as literally--are not always clear and complete. But there may be an insurmountable problem here, for only those who already read books will read this one.