Rediscovering boxed treasures | VailDaily.com

Rediscovering boxed treasures

Don Rogers

Books fill the living room. Boxes and boxes of them, and quickly rising stacks as we unpack.Baby books, college texts, even some high school anthologies, paperbacks, hardback heirlooms in shrink wrap, Ludlam, Louie L’Amour, Longfellow, Kant, Kierkegaard, Shakespeare, Poe, you name it. From Oxford University’s “History of the World” to “Brother Whale.” Dense philosophy (for me, anyway) to lightest of the light, even a Grisham. We faithfully follow James Michener’s sage advice to read everything, trash as well as classic.So we have to acknowledge we’re a little weird. That’s according the various studies showing a great decline in reading fiction, newspapers and news magazines. And our TV viewing in a week doesn’t nearly reach the average daily habit of America. It will be less now. We’re finally unearthing our well-taped book boxes a year after moving into our current home. Most of them were packed almost five years ago, for the move here from southern California, and some haven’t been opened in closer to a decade. The rediscovery of our old friends has been something like finding a sunken galleon, and getting as excited about the encrusted spoons as the chests of bullion.Barely a third into unpacking, my bookshelf has become a veritable embarrassment of riches. Suddenly there’s 41 more books to Read Right Now. That’s atop the eight already lined up, in addition to the one I’m reading now: “In the Yikes Zone: A Conversation With Fear.” Author Mermer Blakeslee, a former racer and instructor, uses skiing as her metaphor for dealing with this at-times crippling emotion. It’s one of those books that publishers sometimes send to the paper, hoping for a review. Actually, it is good – well-written and sensible. Secretly, I’m embarrassed to say, I’m seeking clues to finding my long-lost jumpshot, which I can hardly force myself to heave up during lunchtime pickup basketball games these days. Hey, we all have our little phobias.Surrounded as I write by boxes of books, piles of books, newspapers, news magazines, reports, studies, my own notes – it’s hard to imagine that reading is a dying art. The National Endowment for the Arts this month reported a slippage in their poll of America’s reading of fiction – novels, short stories, poetry and plays – from 56.9 percent of us in 1982 to 46.7 percent as of the 2002 Census. (I presume Richard Clarke’s best-seller “Against All Enemies” wasn’t counted, though it could have been.)Newspaper readership, as counted by the sanctioned auditors, has been slipping for 50 years. News magazine readership is down, too, although I think the proliferation of specialty magazines has kept the genre going strong. Internet use continues to soar as the home computer reaches toward the ubiquitous status of the telephone and television.The well-documented newspaper lag might be misleading, actually. For one, the most popular news sites on the Web are newspaper sites. And there’s another phenomena that’s been building up out of sight of the newspaper industry’s lords. That’s the advent of the free papers, like this one, that go uncounted in the audits of readership that rather smugly only count paid circulation.Turns out that Jim Pavelich, founder of the Vail Daily and Summit Daily News, was a pioneer over two decades ago. Since selling these papers in 1993 to Swift Newspapers, he’s gone on to start free newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area and Denver. Others, including some of the major companies that have lately come up with free versions of their metropolitan papers, have started a renaissance that’s only now becoming a blip on the radar.But if you consider that the Vail Daily and her sister papers in Summit County, Aspen and Glenwood Springs enjoy rather incredible readerships in the 90 percent range, there’s hope yet for my second-favorite genre.Of course, counting by percentage has its flaws. As we know all too well in Eagle County, the population has grown quite a bit since 1982, more than that 10 percentage point decline in book reading.A columnist for The Wall Street Journal notes that the NEA’s poll reveals that 30 million people do regularly read books of poetry. Who’d a thunk? Thirty million! That’s almost the population of California.Sure enough, there’s Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” in my metastasized stack of must reads. Maybe I’ll move “Evangeline” over there, too. Wouldn’t want Longfellow to be left out. There, that’s 42.Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.com