Letter to the Editor

The Charger Bulletin

By Stephen Spignesi

Charger Bulletin‘s Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Field’s editorial about severing ties with her Twitter account was funny and insightful and touched on something I’ve been concerned about for quite some time: the fact that people read books for pleasure and enlightenment much less frequently these days.

Every semester, I ask students who read books as a leisure time pursuit to raise their hands. Usually I rarely see more than two or three hands. This is an alarming trend, and I speak not only as a teacher, but as a professional writer. When I was staring out as a writer in the eighties, book deals were easier to get, advances were bigger, and royalties were much healthier. These days, the exact opposite is true: rejections have skyrocketed, advances have shrunk significantly, and my royalty checks are much smaller. This is a direct, tangible result of what Ms. Fields cites in her piece: people aren’t reading books anymore. Publishers have laid off editors, and the publishing companies themselves have become one more “branch” of massive communications conglomerates.

Sure, Kindles and Nooks sell like crazy, and EBooks are outselling hardcovers, but overall, readership is way down. When I was growing up, books were the go-to form of entertainment. Many of my high school and college classmates would have a ready answer if you asked them “What are you reading?” Nowadays, not so much.

I try to encourage reading whenever I get the opportunity, and I always assign a novel and a play to my E110 students. But frankly, I don’t know what the future holds. Social media, videogames, DVDs, and digital music have commandeered the interest of younger people who never grew up with books as an entertainment mainstay. Interestingly, the students who do raise their hands when I ask how many read for pleasure usually come from households where the parents are big readers. (Amusingly, the same rule applies to students who are Beatles fans: if their parents blasted the White Album and Abbey Road in the house, the kids grew up Beatles fans).

Social media and digital everything is not going to go away. My hope is that the inevitable acquisition of the digital equipment — Kindles, iPads, Nooks, etc. — with their phenomenal reading capabilities, will spur a newfound interest in buying and reading books among college students. Granted, they’ll be reading books digitally, but so what? As Stephen King once said, “books are a uniquely portable magic.” The words are the same whether they’re between covers, on a screen, or on the back of a grocery bag.


– Stephen Spignesi

UNH Professor Stephen Spignesi is an English Department Practitioner in Residence. His latest books are The Titanic for Dummies, Grover Cleveland’s Rubber Jaw, and the paperback edition of his novel, Dialogues.