JUNE 12, 2011 – BROOKLYN, NY
14 year-old Melissa Newkirk could hardly believe what happened last week when she visited the Windsor Terrace branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.
After Ms. Newkirk had selected three books and brought them to the check-out desk, the librarian said something very peculiar. Instead of “May I have your library card?” or “Did you find everything you were looking for?,” librarian Rosa Salvador said to the young woman: “That’s an awful lot of books you have there….have you considered maybe watching more TV this summer?”
As part of the American Library Association’s latest initiative, librarians across the country will be asking young library-goers that very same question. In addition, the ALA will also unveil a multi-million-dollar campaign of print and video ads featuring celebrities watching their favorite shows. “While the ALA will continue to value the written word as much as ever,” says spokesman Charles Perlmutter, “our organization wants to make sure that the American youth’s surging interest in literature doesn’t distract them from enjoying other aspects of arts and culture- especially all the totally awesome TV that’s come out in the past few years.”
Like many young Americans, Ms. Newkirk fell in love with literature thanks to the immensely popular novels in the Harry Potter and Twilight series. “I was enthralled by the power that those books held over my imagination,” she says. “So once I finished everything by J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, I moved on to the works of writers like Stephen King, Jane Austen, and Tolkien…now I’m up to like a book a week!”
“Don’t get me wrong,” says Mrs. Salvador, struggling to avert her eyes from a season 3 episode of Mad Men playing on her laptop. “We’re thrilled that so many children like Melissa are getting enthusiastic about reading, but…oh my God is Peggy really gonna sleep with Duck Phillips?! Holy crap, this show is so fucking good!”
“Sorry, sorry,” says Mrs. Salvador, pausing the episode. “I’ve been addicted ever since [colleague] Alexis [Murphy] loaned me the Season 1 DVDs last week. I can’t believe I waited so long to get into this show! Anyway, what was I saying? Oh right, the kids. We’re so glad the kids are reading, we really are. And we’re especially glad they’re continuing to read during summer vacation. But for summer, one book should be plenty. Something fun and adventurous, and substantial without being too too challenging. Like Huckleberry Finn, or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that would be perfect. Something that won’t require too much time and attention, so these kids still have plenty of opportunity to catch up on all the incredible TV shows that are currently available online or on DVD.”
It may seem odd- illogical, even- that the ALA has launched their aggressive pro-TV campaign. Yet spokesman Perlmutter insists that in many ways, TV’s potential as a storytelling medium has far surpassed that of books.
“Sure, for TV’s first few decades, everything was pretty much garbage,” Mr. Perlmutter says. “Even so-called ‘classic’ shows from way back were pretty lame. But nowadays, TV totally kicks literature’s ass…
“Take the work of Philip K. Dick, for example…10 years ago, I would have said his best books were essential to a young person’s cultural diet. Now, I’d say that while those books are still great, our children could get the same effect just from watching LOST. You know, all that existential stuff about questioning the fabric of reality, and whatnot? Dick was certainly a pioneer in that area, but LOST handles it all in a much more entertaining way. Far better plots and characters, for one thing. I mean, Dick rarely wrote a character worth half a turd.”
Mr. Perlmutter adds, “Even The Bible has been rendered more or less obsolete by the dense mythology of LOST. You can totally get the gist of The Bible from watching LOST, and maybe HBO’s Carnivale.”
“I’m not sure there’s a single book in our library that could paint a more poignant picture of American life in the 21st Century than a season’s worth of NBC’s woefully underappreciated Friday Night Lights,” says Mrs. Salvador. “Or The Wire. Heck, a young person could get way more out of The Wire than they could from the complete works of Charles Dickens- not to mention it would be like 1000% more relevant to the world in which they actually live.”
“Oh, and Breaking Bad too!” Mrs. Salvador adds. “It’s insane how good that show is. I’d rather kids watch every episode of Breaking Bad 3 times before they read a single paragraph of some measly book.”
“I couldn’t agree with Mrs. Salvador more,” Mr. Perlmutter says. “Breaking Bad makes every book ever written look like a spunk-stained issue of Hustler.”
So far, the ALA’s campaign is showing signs of success. “After speaking with Mrs. Salvador,” says Ms. Newkirk, “I decided that instead of Wuthering Heights and Brave New World and Franny And Zooey, I’d check out the library’s LOST Season 1 DVD.”
“I’m very proud of Melissa,” says Mrs. Salvador, “now that she’s chosen to open herself up a little more to the magical world of TV. I just wish I could see the look of wonder on her young face when she finds out that Locke used to be in a wheelchair.”