Here are a two snippets from close to the beginning:
Lewis begins The Voyage of the Dawn Treader with a memorable introduction of a new character: “There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubbs, and he almost deserved it.” In introducing us to Eustace, Lewis believes the best way for the reader to understand him is to know the kinds of books he read. “He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools.” In other words, he didn’t have time for the types of stories that Lewis adored—stories about heroism, knights and talking animals.
As a result, Eustace is at a significant disadvantage when he first arrives in Narnia and finds himself in a dragon’s lair. “Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair,” Lewis writes, “but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.”
The situation worsens when the dragon begins to stir: “Something was crawling. Worse still, something was coming out of the cave. Edmund or Lucy or you would have recognized it at once, but Eustace had read none of the right books.”
A few years ago, the National Endowment for the Arts released a report entitled “Reading at Risk.” Many people here are probably familiar with its findings, but allow me to repeat the headline: For the first time in modern history, less than half of the adult population now reads literature. The decline is across all races, all education levels, and all age groups. While this may come as a surprise to Hillsdale College students, the decline is the most pronounced in their age group. In just twenty years, young adults have declined from being those most likely to read literature to those least likely.
The report went on to show that the decline in literary reading strongly correlates to a decline in cultural and civic participation. Literary readers are more than twice as likely as non-literary readers to perform volunteer and charity work, nearly three times as likely to attend performing arts events, and nearly four times as likely to visit art museums. Before you begin to think that this is limited to highbrow events, literary readers are even substantially more likely to attend sporting events than non-literary readers. And before you begin to think that the group of people making up literary readers is a group of Luddites that has sworn off electronic media, the report found that literature readers still managed to watch close to three hours of television each day! In other words, people who find time for Law and Order can still find time for Crime and Punishment.
I think I'll sign off and go read for a while :)
Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, the national speech digest of Hillsdale College, www.hillsdale.edu.