Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pat Shroeder Is an Idiot

There's been quite a bit of talk on book blogs in the last few days about the Associated Press-Ipsos poll that showed that at least one in four Americans did not read even one book last year. Tragic as that is, the way that Pat Shroeder, president of the American Association of Publishers, decided to spin one other item in the poll is even more embarrassing. Shroeder works for a publishing group and one would assume that a big part of her job is to promote books and reading. But Shroeder, an ex-congresswoman from Colorado decided that getting a dig in at her former political opponents was more important than doing the job for which she is paid.

Because one part of the poll seemed to indicate that liberals read more books than conservatives, Shroeder reverted to the type of petty political attack she was well known for before her congressional exit. Debra J. Saunders makes clear in her San Francisco Chronicle column today that Pat Shroeder is either a fool or a liar. You decide which it is.
(Shroeder) proclaimed, "The Karl Roves of the world have built a generation that just wants a couple of slogans: 'No, don't raise my taxes, no new taxes.' It's pretty hard to write a book saying, 'No new taxes, no new taxes, no new taxes,' on every page."

She also told AP that liberals "can't say anything in less than paragraphs. We really want the whole picture, want to peel the onion."
Silly me, I looked into the poll - which liberals have hailed as proof of their intellectual superiority - and there's not a lot there in "the whole picture." The poll found that among people polled who read at least one book in the last year, liberals read nine books and conservatives read eight.

When I called Michael Gross, associate vice president of Ipsos public affairs, to find out more about the Ipsos poll, he told me the one-book difference "is within the margin of error, it's not a statistically significant difference."

The poll also found that moderates who said they read at least one book a year, on average, read five books a year. By Schroeder's lights, moderates must be really simple-minded sloganeers.

As a conservative, I am not proud to read that 34 percent of conservatives - as opposed to 22 percent of liberals and moderates - said they had read a book within the last year.

Then again, because the poll did not ask people if they read newspapers or magazines, Gross noted, "I don't think it says anything about people's general level of information."
Which makes one wonder: Why did Schroeder, who is supposed to champion books, choose to alienate one-third of the American public, those who self-identify as conservatives? She adds new meaning to the phrase "peeling the onion."

In her rush to brand the right as bunch of illiterates, Schroeder had the poor sense to go after an avid reader, Karl Rove, who has been winning a heated competition with President Bush as to which of the two can read the most books. Rove recently told Rush Limbaugh that he beat Bush last year. The Score: Rove, 110 books; Bush, 94.
As the poll really shows, a person's political beliefs have very little impact on the number of books he reads per given year. People either read or they don't read. Karl Rove has not personally killed off a whole generation of conservative readers. In my estimation, Pat Shroeder is just another in a long line of fools who has decided to let personal vindictiveness get in the way of doing the job for which she is paid. I hope that that the American Association of Publishers cares enough about their group to muzzle the woman before she does them any more damage.


  1. Having sat in on more than one publishing event which featured Pat Shroeder as a speaker, I can readily agree with you that the occasional muzzle on her comments might be desirable. However, she was hired to be the pit bull for a Washington lobbying association and she's been very successful in their eyes. No one thinks of the AAP as just a benign entity any more.

  2. I think everyone in the publishing business has been hearing some version of this for years: "People don't read anymore, or they read less than they used to" (yadda, yadda). But is it really true?

    It's like the old saying: "Poetry books don't sell." Well, actually they sell like crazy if you publish the poems according to a certain theme, and then market the book to that target group. Most of the buyers of my poetry books have never bought a poetry book before, but ended up buying several of mine, because they liked the subject matter. Same thing with my novels when they are marketed to certain target groups. What's up with that?

    So what does all of this mean when the polls say people (of any political persuasion...I mean who really cares about that?) don't read anymore or read less? I think people do read. I think they read a lot. That has been my experience. Let's take novels. I think they are reading just as many or more than they used to BUT they are reading in a variety of forms. Lots of people in my book groups only read ebooks, some on their phones (yikes!). One reads over 30 e-books a month and hasn't bought a paper version of a book in 6 years (she reads hers on her ipod).

    I think the publishing industry is just caught in the middle of rapidly changing times. Magazine ads for books don't work anymore, but the intenet does. Everything is changing so fast. I think if they waited and conducted a poll 5 years from now it would show people are reading as much or more than they used to. Once we all get used to these new options I think the publishing industry is going to find this very exciting. Until then I am happy to curl up on the sofa with my cats and a book in paper form (grin).

  3. That's a shame, Jill, and I hate to hear that. What in the world are they lobbying for...copyright changes, protection from illegal downloading, or what? She's embarrassing herself and her group, IMO, but that's nothing new for this woman.

  4. I tend to agree with you, Laura. I don't think that polls have quite figured out how to measure all the different options that readers have nowadays. Newspapers and magazines are suffering because they have already been largely supplanted by internet news outlets and few of the old guard papers and magazines have figured out a way to monetize their product...except through selling advertising, just as they pretty much do with physical papers and magazines. Now that internet ad rates are increasing and costing more, papers and magazines may be just fine in the long run.

    I read e-books on my Sony reader and on my laptop and I listen to audio books in addition to reading the old fashioned way. Many of the electronic books that I read are free, legal downloads that I find on the internet very easily. They are not recorded anywhere as book sales, so they understate the amount of book commerce that I'm involved in. Multiply that a few million times and you realize just how understated books sales and reading might be.

    It will be very interesting to see where we are five years from now. Five years ago, I never would have believed that I would have 15,000 songs on my iPod and about 150 books on my Sony reader and its extra memory card.

    I'm going on a day trip tomorrow that involves 4 hours driving each way. I'm bringing both the iPod and the Sony reader with me. That's an amazing amount of choice that I can carry in one hand. I'm actually look forward to having someone drive me around for 8 hours tomorrow. :-)

  5. Have fun on your trip. I have heard good things about the Sony Reader. Sounds like you will get a lot of good reading finished in those 8 hours. :)

    On another subject, I finally got around to reading your Blogger profile, and I see you like Joyce Carol Oates. I admire her genius and writing style, although her novels are usually a little to grim for me, so I have only read a few. However she did write one of my favorite novellas, which I think is simply a modern masterpiece..."I Lock My Door Upon Myself." Are you familiar with that one? Outstanding.

    Anyway, as a Southerner you will appreciate this. Oates was the main speaker a few years ago at the SC Literary Festival here in Columbia. She was evidently unfamilar with the Deep South, because she was hysterically funny about our airport (it is so clean and full of palmetto trees she thought she had died, and this must be what Heaven looks like...she was just a hoot).

    But I knew she was unfamiliar with our Southern culture (good manners, and what is done, and what is NOT done) by the new short story she chose to read. It was about a serial killer and described every gory detail of the capture, rape, and killing of young women who were his victims. The story was told in the voice of the one teenage girl who was rescued and not killed. Typical Oates.

    My husband and I were sitting about 20 rows back in the conference room where she was speaking. I swear about 5 minutes into that story every Southern woman in there was squirming in her seat, incredibly uncomfortable with what they were hearing. It was just the WRONG story to be reading to a bunch of Southern ladies. I felt so sorry for them. A few on the end rows did walk out and get relief, but most were trapped in the middle of long rows.

    Oates was shocked at the silence after her reading. And the fact that there were no questions. I can only imagine what the faces of those women looked like to her. Probably faces full of horror, shock, and utter disgust. That's why she started telling us about her positive reaction to our airport a few seconds later, which was very funny and loosened up a few questions afterwards. What a hoot!

  6. Sigh. Why must some folks try to turn everything into a political argument? Can't we just focus on the books?

    *grumble, grumble*

  7. The truly shocking thing in this is that the President has read 94 books, and from the way it's written I'm assuming that means this year. I thought the President was a busy man, but apparently not that busy. I haven't even come close to reading 94 books and I read in a lot of my spare time!

  8. That's a great Oates story, Laura. I met her at Rice University here in Houston a long time ago and she seemed pleased to be there but a little unsure of her audience. She didn't quite go out as far onto a limb as you described, though. :-) That's truly funny.

    The trip went well, BTW, and the e-Reader came in handy as usual. I got in a lot of reading before taking a turn at the wheel and we had a good trip.

  9. That's my point, too, Heather. I guess I was wrong when I assumed that Shroeder is the head of an apolitical organization. Everyone wants to be a lobbyist these days, seems like.

  10. I think those numbers are for 2006, Matt. I don't find it all that surprising considering that Bush is not involved with everyday tasks like house maintenance, lawn care, grocery shopping, running errands, banking, taking care of small children, etc. Something less than two books a week probably takes less than 10 hours of actual reading time a week...easily doable by staying away from a television set, for instance.