Today at The Elegant Variation, during the course of Kevin Smokler’s appearance via the Virtual Book Tour, there was a heated though civilized thread about whether the infamous Reading at Risk report issued by the BEA was useful or even genuinely reflective of diminishing literary awareness. Arguments concerning the methodology and the resultant media reaction (which Smokler contends is equivalent to hyperbole involving those darn kids who listen to rock and roll back in the day, a sentiment I certainly agree with) were unloaded. But the central question of whether or not the everyday world is aware of authors remains not only unanswered, but largely unexplored on an empirical basis.
In a unconnected post on the same topic, Sara at Storytelling has a very interesting idea in response to some of the raging debates that have been going on at the LBC. She has a list of ten authors: five of whom are recognizable, five of whom are not. She wants people to go outside with this list and see how many people can recognize the names. She’s enlisted her daughter to posit the list to fellow students in her high school.
I think this is an excellent idea. For many of the same points that Sara made, whether there exists a “crisis” or not (depending upon your definition of the term), it would be a fascinating (if unscientific) experiment.
The list of authors is:
1. Chris Clarke
2. James Robinson
3. Margaret Atwood
4. Erik White
5. Sue Kidd
6. Michael Chabon
7. David Gardener
8. Philip Roth
9. Kate Atkinson
10. Joanne Mitchell
Tomorrow, I plan to ask fifteen random strangers not only if they have heard of these authors, but whether they can name a book that was written by them. And just because I can (and because I’m knee deep in his books), I’m adding an eleventh name: William T. Vollman.
I will post the results here. But for those who are interested in getting results, I would highly urge you to do the same in your respective regional areas. (I’m based in San Francisco.)
My thinking is that the results may surprise us. But the proof resides in carrying out the experiment.
[UPDATE: Ron Hogan suggests that Bookmark Now fails to tie in the “Reading at Risk”/literary awareness alarmism into its scheme of essays.]