Last week we noted that the reports of the book’s death would seem to be highly exaggerated. This week, courtesy of the Pew Research Center, we’re pleased to add that the world of print looks as if it might even have a future.
Reports Pew, about three-quarters of Americans read a book in the last 12 months—which at least is a start. About two-thirds of them read print books. The young were likelier than the old to read at all, a figure that may be skewed by school requirements but that still reverses the old saw that the 65-and-older set is keeping print culture alive. Still, the report adds that 80 percent of adults read for pleasure rather than out of strict obligation. Women, as ever, buy and read more books than men—which, given the well-attested gap in pay, is really going above and beyond the call to keep civilization afloat.
Ah, the art of the deal: civilization may collapse, but the wheels will still spin and the skids will still be greased. Take a report that began at the Daily Beast and made its way into a few mainstream media sources: Donald Trump’s campaign bought $55,000 worth of his book cum self-advertisement Crippled America to stick in the swag bags of attendees at last July’s Republican National Convention. But not from the publisher, where bulk purchases would normally be directed. Instead, the purchases were made through Barnes & Noble in what appears to have been an effort to game the bestseller lists, which report via brick-and-mortar sales.
A century and change ago, Lucy Maud Montgomery published a novel that would become a legitimate bestseller, bought by readers other than her staffers—some 50 million of those readers, in fact, over the years. Anne of Green Gables was originally sold as an adult novel, but it soon settled into a spot as a beloved book for pre-teen readers, and there it has remained. Still, in its depiction of the uncertainties of orphanhood, it had a dark edge, which a new Netflix series, now in production in Canada, is said to capture. Look for it in 2017.
Speaking of burning down the house, last week marked the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire, which burned down much of the center of then wood-built London. The city had just shaken off the Plague and was embroiled in trade wars, class struggle, and the usual strife of life in urban civilization, and this was a spectacular cap to a couple of very bad years. Samuel Pepys, the diarist, kept an account of events, which the BBC has put to work in an interactive map. As the blog of the Royal Society notes, though, the upside was that London would soon be rebuilt into an even greater city, thanks in part to the genius of architect Christopher Wren. As Adrian Tinniswood notes in The Guardian, the fire inspired a small literature in its time, but there’s room in our own for good books on the subject—so where is Umberto Eco when we need him?
Gregory McNamee is a contributing editor.