The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1409 Monday, 12 July 2004
From: Richard Burt <
Date: Friday, 9 Jul 2004 08:25:10 -0400
Subject: Harold Bloom on Teaching Shakespeare, etc
How Can We Teach Them Shakespeare When They've Never Read Chaucer?
By Harold Bloom
Thursday's announcement by the National Endowment for the Arts that
reading is down - that fewer than half of all Americans over the age of
18 now read novels, plays, short stories or poetry, and that only 56.9%
have read any book at all in the last year - is, of course, to be
abhorred. But to call it news, I think, is wrong.
This country, after all, has been split into two cultures for many
years. If you go back through the history of literacy in the United
States in the 19th and 20th centuries, you'll see that we've always been
divisible into readers and nonreaders.
Who are the readers and who are the nonreaders? It's not as simple as
you might think. It's not a distinction that goes by social class, and
it doesn't go by income group. It isn't a male thing or a female thing
or a matter of sexual orientation or so-called white or so-called black.
It's a broad generic distinction between the people who have a
fundamental passion for books and those who don't. We haven't yet found
an adequate way to explain it and, frankly, I'm not sure that even
education can affect it.
I know the children of many faculty members at Yale, for instance, who
have grown up in houses just like my own, which has about 35,000 books
in it, and still they have never become readers. But I also have many
students who grew up poor with few books in the house but who have
developed a voracious hunger for them.
[ . . . ]
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