Skibsrud: Over the last few years, since I’ve had the opportunity to travel internationally with my writing, I’ve become increasingly aware of how lucky we are in Canada to have the sort of general support for the arts that we do through funding bodies like the Canada Council for the Arts. This is a tremendous gift, and I think we have a responsibility to both appreciate, and be willing to fight – very hard, if necessary – to maintain, as well as constantly improve upon, what we have in this regard. It’s also very important, I think, to keep in mind – and to continuously remind our legislators – that promoting a “literate” or “readerly” culture is a holistic project that reaches into all corners of our society. It’s a project that affects not just the “literary arts,” but all fields and aspects of education – as well as, and as a result, health, social justice, cultural understanding and the economy.
Lam: Certainly, I think that Canada likes to think of itself as a readerly country. My non-evidence-based-gestalt is that a small percentage of people read quite a lot of books. A somewhat larger, but thankfully still smallish percentage of people read, say, less than one book per year. A large slice of Canadians read books that ‘everyone is reading’, which might be one or two books per year, where it is quite possible that neither of these books is Canadian. We certainly have many amazing writers, but many accomplished and well-recognized Canadian writers don’t have enough readers to earn a modest living wage from writing books. So… does all of that make us a readerly country?
What are the biggest challenges facing reading and readers today?
Bergen: Reading requires time and attention, and there are more and more glittery objects out there clamouring for our attention. It’s much easier to sit and text, or check your Instagram, than it is to descend into Gogol, even though Gogol might restore your dead soul.
Skibsrud:Reading has never been easier. And there has never been more to read. Yes – sure – too much. But that’s a good thing. Concerns over the “glut” of information available to us are ultimately, I think, pretty near-sighted. There couldn’t possibly be a more ridiculous excuse for not reading. Don’t know what to read? Read anything! Read everything! We are lucky to have such a wealth of options, but it’s still entirely up to you. Read as much or as little or as widely or as narrowly as you want, anywhere you want, any way you want, and for whatever reason.
Lam:The biggest challenge to readers today is the intrusiveness of modern life. We live in a culture of 24-hour connectivity. There are screens everywhere, phones ringing, and devices beeping. And workplaces constantly demand more, and want it sooner. The great pleasure of the book is to be able to step into a different world within its pages, and the challenge for a reader is being unable to escape our world of the 24-hour “on” setting. Yet, to me, this challenge to reading also creates the imperative to read. More than ever, I think it’s deeply important, as soulful, reflective human beings, to declare: “I will now step away into the world of my mind and my book.”
Adams Richards:I think, percentage-wise, the same number of people read now as always – perhaps with more emphasis now on book clubs, etc. But I still believe any number of kids will pick up Alistair MacLeod or Charles Dickens, Jane Austen or Alice Munro and begin their love affair with the written word. I think for a certain number of people it is hard-wired and will always be. Of course, with so many things bombarding kids today, books certainly can look old-fashioned and out of date in their parents’ study. But the greater secret is this: Nothing will stop the novelist, story writer or poet from writing, or the novel/story/poem from being written; or the reader, somewhere in some way, discovering them.
Jared Bland is The Globe and Mail’s Books Editor.