Illiteracy, if it may be interpreted as inability to write grammatically coherent sentences, has been growing in America. I should know, having taught remedial and college entry level English writing in Sacramento and Fresno these past ten years. According to recent Fresno State statistics, “More than 60% of first-time freshmen need remedial English programs [and] that figure has inched up over the past five years”.
Naturally the overall problem impacts the number of potential customers of books. I’m sure that relationship can be supported: if people are not themselves versatile writers, their ability to grasp the meaning of sentences composed by writers of meaningful fluency (with larger vocabularies than most) will be limited. Some writers think they should dumb down their manuscripts in order to be marketable.
Does this, in fact, really happen? Editors of large and small publishing houses, being most often very literary creatures, will bristle. How would they feel if I were to suggest that the publishing houses themselves have promoted illiteracy?
Sure, cell phones and internet chatting have hugely contributed to the overall inability to spell or compose anything other than sentence fragments. However, human beings have been multilingual for centuries. Joseph Conrad, author of Lord Jim, wrote his way to fame in his third language, English. (His first was Polish and his second, French.) Yes, films and video games have taken consumers’ precious time away from reading and writing. Still, a good deal of writing got published, causing wave after wave of youthful aspirants to dream of being writers, while TV was in its first flaming decades of success and children snuck into movie theaters with or without tickets and popcorn. How many of us hoped to become the new Rod Serling or Ray Bradbury?
Publishing houses are commanded from the top, and the orders sent down are for money and lots of it. Today, one good writer, hugely promoted, can bring in far more money than five hundred equally good writers, lukewarmly printed and symbolically distributed. No argument there. When publishers go for the gold (bullion), the chances for young or maturing writers to make a living in the publishing world diminish significantly.
No wonder illiteracy is increasing. Why won’t publishers see the most voracious and devoted readers are those who see themselves as writers? If there is no (financial) point in writing, why read?
 Since returning to the States from Saudi Arabia