In November 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) released a follow-up report to their "Reading at Risk" study done in 2004. This new report, titled "To Read or Not To Read," goes further into the matter of literary reading on the decline. The NEA raises an important issue, and we need to recognize this and conceive ways of turning around the trend.

At The Summerset Review, we've experienced this a bit ourselves. Our guidelines page far exceeds all others as our most read page, suggesting that the majority of people who visit our little online magazine (actually, we have one print issue and hope for another in 2009) are more interested in getting published here than reading the stories. We suspect this may be true for many other literary magazines as well.

Additionally, our free Fifty-for-Fifty Reading Contest brought in minimal entries this quarter. We pay fifty dollars to the person who writes a fifty-or-more-word commentary on a story read in the magazine. This is twice the amount we pay an author whose story or essay is accepted here. Still, we've received almost five hundred submissions of stories and essays last quarter, while in the same time frame the number of entries for our reading contest could be counted on one hand.

To take our own next step in addressing the issue that the NEA is reporting, we are increasing the pay-out of our reading contest to $150 for the current issue. Though we realize this is still small potatoes in the big scheme of things, it comes from a source that has a total staff of two unpaid volunteers, an organization that you won't find listed on the NASDAQ. We are also continuing to give you a short list of questions on the pieces appearing in our issue, for use in reader group discussion or simply for individual thought. See the Guidelines for Submissions and Questions for Reader Groups pages for more information.

Additionally, we have a recommendation for the NEA and the literary community. There is a national program currently underway called The Big Read, where groups around the country are reading American novels with hope of improving the overall situation. Though we applaud the attempt, we do not think the concentration on one or a very small set of books is the optimal approach.

Many people believe the root of the solution lies in getting our younger people to read more, particularly teenagers. No single book is the perfect book for everyone; there is a wide variety of tastes among us all. The important thing is that people read, not necessarily that they read a specific book, regardless of its acclaim. Imposing on younger people the requirement to read a book they do not like serves to de-motivate, and may instigate more damage than repair. The solution, we believe, is in offering a wide variety of material, and setting up the means of having the reading of the book fairly evaluated by a cognizant person or group.

It should also be noted that almost all of the Featured Books of The Big Read are classics and do not reflect the state of literary writing today in its contemporary form. We feel there is just as much, if not more, to gain from contemporary literary writing as there is with the classics.

As part of The Big Read, we think it would be a good idea to promote literary magazines. These have a wide variety of writing styles and plots in a single issue, and readers could be given the suggestion of trying the first story/poem/essay, and stopping and moving on to the next if they do not like it. Chances are favorable that by the time the reader reaches the end of the issue, they would have settled on and read at least one piece. Though this would not constitute a book-length read, it is a start, and could serve to give the world more exposure into literary magazines—a seriously under-recognized source of literature.

A different and equally important perspective exists in an essay in the Winter 2008 issue of The Southern Review, entitled, "The Death of the Death of the Novel," by Robert Clark Young. This piece sheds positive light on the health of the literary world, and is a comfort to read. The author argues that "...the Internet and iPods and DVDs are not responsible for turning book publishing into a money loser," and that "American literature is not only alive but immortal."

We invite you to read Young's essay, as well as the NEA report, and we're interested in your comments. Write to us and tell us what you're thinking. Or doing. We genuinely want to know.


It's with a tear in our eye that we give you our Lit Pick of the Quarter. The story comes from a literary magazine that is closing down, one we've loved for twenty-two years: Other Voices. Based in Chicago, this journal published much innovative fiction, and "Morphogenesis," by Aimee Pokwatka, in the Spring/Summer 2007 issue (#46) is no exception. Here is an excerpt -

      It started with a swirl of green in my fingertips. Jeremy was the one to notice it, of course; he looked at me so much more carefully then.
      "What the hell did you get on your fingers?" he asked.
      "What do you mean?" I pulled my hands out of our tiny pool. The water was clear except for a few flowers from the yuccas I didn't have the heart to skim off the top. My skin was cinched and puckered everywhere except for the knuckles.
      "It looks like you got ink all over them," he said. "Like a police lineup or something."
      "Maybe it's paint," I said. I hadn't been using green paint that day, but I was messy, always dripping something over the side of a drop cloth and onto the sawdusty floor of my studio.
      He took the index finger of my right hand in his mouth and let his tongue swirl around it. When he gave it back, the green was still there, etched into the whorls and loops, an ugly, foreign tattoo. Jeremy sank neck-deep in the water and shrugged, and there was something about him at that moment that looked diluted and free. The sun striped his body like a zebra, distorting itself as it crossed through our ripples and worked its way down.

Though Other Voices is closing, we'd be remiss to omit mentioning that OV Books continues. OV Books is a small book press that sprung out of Other Voices in 2004, having the very honorable mission of publishing forms of literature that are being marginalized more and more these days, namely short story collections and anthologies. We wish all those connected with the OV Books project much success.


Some of our fans often ask why we do not have a donations page. Actually, we do, in a sense. We are selling Volume One, a print issue collecting work from our first five years. Ten dollars brings this little treasure right to your door. Though you can't claim this as a donation per se, for tax purposes, we think it is something you may come to appreciate far greater and longer.


The Summerset Review
 
Joseph Levens - Editor
Amy Leigh Owen Assistant Editor
 
A literary journal released quarterly on the 15th of March, June, September, and December on the Internet, and periodically in print form. Founded in 2002, the journal is devoted to the review and publication of unsolicited short stories and essays.

All correspondence and submissions should be emailed to editor@summersetreview.org. Postal mailing address: 25 Summerset Drive, Smithtown, New York 11787, USA.

This publication is made possible, in part, with grants from the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP), supported by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), a state agency. We are very thankful for the support and encouragement these organizations have given our journal and the literary community.

The Summerset Review is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, incorporated in New York State.

ISSN 1933-7175

Theme graphics: "Omnipraesent" Copyright © The Summerset Review, Inc. 2008.