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Books, Like Radio, Still Count

February 17, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

“That’s it; radio is finished!” cried educators and journalists in the 1950s, when television moved into our homes. Radio was headed for the dustbin, they said.

They were wrong. Radio is expanding today, with internet broadcasting, satellite radio, podcasting, and micro-radio. Radio programs like the Diane Ryme Show www.wamu.org archive their broadcasts so we can download and listen to anything, anytime.

Thus, I’m skeptical when people say the internet will render books obsolete. Doubtless internet reading is appealing. Since our young prefer to read news online, newspapers are expanding online editions. At the same time we learn that internet browsers devote only 45 minutes a week reading news whereas we paper-readers spend 45 minutes each day with printed news! Let’s see how online news competes when it ceases to be free.

In any case, book publishing seems to be unassailable. Look how many people are writing a book, if not a blog! The subjects we can find between the covers of books is overwhelming. And poets never stop writing.

Visiting London recently, I noticed that bookstores were more numerous across the city. Bookstore children’s departments were larger too. I am told more English language books are published than ever before—100,000 new titles a year in USA; 140,000 in Britain!

Surely, book popularity is tied to the proliferation of great stories for children. Harry Potter books are part of a wider phenomena. Children’s books— terribly overpriced-- is an expanding business in the US and UK.

Books offer the promise of celebrity to unknowns and more celebrity to the famous. Look! Clinton’s autobiography is a bestseller! Even Paul Bremer, the disgraced US viceroy to Iraq, wrote a book.

Books lead to TV appearances and book tours. Oprah Winfrey, the beloved American talk-show host, mostly interviews authors on her program. Oprah’s Book Club helped revitalize reading among Americans. So have coffee bars. Many bookstores have lounges where people can meet, sip coffee and buy books. Busboys and Poets (www.teachingforchange.org) in Washington is a literary adventure. Launched by my friend Anas Shallal, ‘Busboys’ is a theater, a bookstore and a café.

As a radio producer, I am deluged with new books to review. Publishers send their latest releases. Authors eager for an interview contact me to announce their availability. Among a lot of rubbish, I always find gems.

Oh dear; I forgot. This is a, ummm, blog, isn't it?

[ Books, Like Radio, Still Count ]

New York Neighborhood

February 10, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Two small friends, book-bags hanging on their backs, amble down a street on their way home from school. An image familiar to us all. In the USA however, it’s a relic of the past.

The west side of Broadway in Upper Manhattan bordering Columbia University has become ‘upscale’ i.e. high-priced. Residents here are mainly white, middleclass families. Few if any children are seen in the street.

East of Broadway Avenue, barely five-minutes away, life is different. The majority of families here are Hispanic. These streets are their ‘al-barrio’—Spanish neighborhood. Hot summer nights find old and young talking on front doorsteps. Residents shop at local ‘bodega’ for plantains, avocados and beans. Everyone speaks Spanish.

Sociologists call these New Yorkers ‘working poor’ compared to West Broadway where annual household incomes approach $100,000.

Al-Barrio families may be poorer. But their neighborhood is clean and respectable, and crime is not above average. Nevertheless, it appears their children are always in danger.

Moving through the neighborhood at 8:00 am, I am reminded of the perils of city life as I watch these children heading to school. One al-barrio school is on 109th off Broadway, another on 108th street. Yet nobody walks to school alone. Even with an older sister nearby, young children must be accompanied by adults. Each is led by hand from home to the school gate. Every day. It’s normal.

Again at 3 o’clock, when school recesses, parents arrive to collect their children. This, even where a school is hardly 200 meters from home. The same applies in Philadelphia and San Francisco, in Arab, Irish, Pakistani neighborhoods, to immigrants and longtime citizens. Why?

First, children here are prey to sex and drug traffickers and other criminals haunting our streets. Second, American society now subscribes to the code called “parental responsibility”. Anyone allowing his child to walk to school alone could be accused of parental neglect!

Families in crime-free ‘suburbia’ and towns across the country suffer the same fate. Drive through any American town in mid-afternoon, you will see columns of buses waiting outside schools to deliver their children safely home.

Perhaps this explains why parents here tolerate their children spending so much time watching television or playing computer games. It may be the reason Americans don’t care about Palestinian children shot on their way to school. News about hardships of Iraqi children don’t concern people here. American parents have their own problems.

[ New York Neighborhood ]
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