There is no room for literacy at my local pub…
Sadly, my local pub is apparently among those that prefer idiocy and ignorance to intelligence and education. Gladly, I don’t care if anyone’s feelings are hurt that I honestly share my experience in coming to this conclusion. If you’re ever in California, don’t waste your time at Brendan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant (Camarillo, CA) if you think reading is important. Because there is no room for literacy at my local pub…
Some time ago, I was terribly disheartened by my own experience as a writer trying to seek out publication, and as an avid reader desperately searching for like-minded people who love books as much as I do. To say “I love books” is probably understating it. I am obsessed with books. I read all the time. The only thing that I love more than books are words, which always gets weird looks when I tell people this. I think a word is one of the most beautiful things in existence, and no one can ever take them away from you. So when I was disheartened a while back, I did some research and learned some startling statistics, which I reported on this blog. Among the most startling of things I learned when writing that blog was that as many as 33% of people that graduate from high school never read another book again after graduation, with 42% of the remaining never reading past college. Additionally, on a daily basis the Pew Report estimated that Americans spend an average of 4 hours watching television, 3 hours listening to radio or music, and no more than 14 minutes reading (usually in a magazine or news online). Every, single day – no more than 14 minutes. I came to the conclusion that in a world like this, there is no room for good literature.
But then you have a rare event promoting literacy, such as happened today across the country – an event that lifts your spirits and gives you hope amidst all the statistics and stupidity. Last year in Europe a movement began called World Book Night, which spread to the United States this year and created an unprecedented movement of people encouraging others to read. The idea was that the 501(c)3 would get (through contributions from individuals, organizations, and publishing houses) 30 books distributed in large amounts to volunteers who would then give the books away for free to members of the community. You could give them away anywhere – the mall, senior centers, the library, the grocery store, restaurants, bars … whatever you wanted, you just had to give them away for the event, and for free.
So I signed up and got my first choice for books – The Poisonwood Bible. I got twenty copies, specially printed with a letter on the cover about World Book Night and a list of all the contributors that made the event such a success. A book club I’m in had some ladies that were interested in participating as well, so we organized a meet up at the local watering hole to give away the book (and other used ones we had collected) to passers-by.
When I walked in, the hostesses at the front door welcomed me and my box of books with open arms. They each took one and said they were so excited we would be there. We had communicated with the place about the event, so this seemed only natural. The others in our group showed, we ordered drinks, and set out the books on the two tables we occupied. We gave out a few more books. We snapped a photograph. Then I saw our waitress talking to the bartender and looking at us, and as she walked over I knew things were going to go downhill. The conversation went something like this:
Cocktail waitress: “So, what exactly are you guys doing?”
Us: “We’re participating in World Book Night. It’s a national event where we have been given free books to distribute to people in our community at local hang outs.”
Cocktail waitress: “Hmmmmmm… who did you speak to about doing this? Did you talk to Chuck?”
Us: “We sent an email and also communicated on your Facebook page.”
Cocktail waitress: “Huh. I’m trying to figure out how to say this without being rude. We really can’t have you approaching people to solicit them.”
Us: “Okay, can we stay seated here with our books on the table?”
Cocktail waitress: “Oh sure, you are welcome to stay and drink but you can’t approach people.”
Us: “Can we move somewhere that more people will see this.”
Cocktail waitress: “I’m really just trying to say this without being rude, but no – you see none of us even know what the book is about, having never read it. If someone walks by and asks what you have on the table, you are welcome to give those away.”
She came back a few minutes later to make it clear that we could still give people the books if they walked by and asked, and when we asked if we could put up a handmade sign she said “no.” That was the end of our World Book Night as we thought it would be. Disappointing, but we had to move on.
After finishing our drinks and getting out of there, we ended up walking around the rest of the mall and distributing the books (mostly) to employees of the other shops and fast food restaurants in the area. Some of them were very appreciative, a few looked like they just wanted us to leave. One guy acted surprised that people were giving out books and actually acknowledged that illiteracy in our country is a big problem that things like this will really help fix. In the end, we successfully got all of our World Book Night books distributed and had a good time, but that really isn’t the point.
Had my local pub not been in a complex with other places, they could have ruined our efforts for the night. I get not wanting people to bother their patrons. I get not knowing what the book is about and being worried we might represent something they don’t believe in. But had they taken the time to look into it, or had they considered even just letting us set the books up in such a way that passers-by could see and inquire, this wouldn’t have made me so mad. Instead of doing that, though, Brendan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant let us show up and order drinks, only to shoot us down. Because the people working tonight had never read the book. Maybe they’ve never read any books, or they don’t believe that reading is as important as making money and discouraging anything but drinking at their establishment. Do I really believe that it was some grand conspiracy theory on the part of the place to actively discourage intellectualism? No. But it still is true that if their patrons decided to read more, they’d likely spend less time glued to the bar stool with their eyes on the many big screen TVs that cover the place.
In the end, it’s just a big disappointment in a locally owned restaurant and bar, and a reminder that for the majority of our present society, there really is no room for good literature. We weren’t selling things. We weren’t trying to convert people to any religious or cult-like groups. We weren’t interrupting people’s meals or breaking up their attempts at love. We just wanted people to see what we had to offer, and to have an opportunity to read and expand their minds.
It’s too bad that there is no room for literacy at my local pub… is there room for literacy anywhere anymore?