Book festival a weekend to celebrate the printed word

It may be hard for old-timers to believe, but a current member of the Clark County School Board admits many high school kids today can't file in alphabetical order.

After all, if the way you find things on the Internet is to type a word or two into a search engine -- which will even help you with misspellings -- why would you need to know that "R" comes between "Q" and "S," or to decide whether "Marshall" comes before "McAdams"? (There's a difference of opinion: The British sometimes segregate the "Mcs" and "Macs" in advance of the rest of the "M's." Go figure.)

The owner of Greyhound Books at Decatur Boulevard and Sahara Avenue says he used to ask job applicants what a first edition of "The Raven" is worth. Most just went away, he reports, while some did ask, "What's that?"

More recently, though, he says the proprietors of the Amber Unicorn down the street at Decatur and O'Bannon Drive suggested a better test: "Ask them to recite the alphabet."

Is literacy going away? With major bookstore chains shutting down, are we about to lose "the book"?

Books replaced scrolls around the fourth century because they allowed "random access" to their content -- you didn't have to read through from start to finish.

While the Internet appears to make things even easier to find, it also means you're less likely to suffer the happy accident of finding something you're not looking for -- which regularly happens on the shelves of a bookstore or library.

Otherwise, it probably doesn't matter how we read, so much as it matters that succeeding generations be encouraged to read, not merely to parse out bus schedules and soup can labels, mind you, but in the sense that we used to mean: getting lost in a good book.

The Review-Journal is happy to be among the sponsors of this weekend's Vegas Valley Book Festival, which kicks off with a presentation by "World War Z" author Max Brooks at 7 p.m. today at the Clark County Library, 1401 E. Flamingo Road, and concludes with a reading by "A Thousand Acres" author Jane Smiley at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Historic Fifth Street School, 401 S. Fifth St.

Look for full information at, or call 229-5431.

It's all supposed to be fun. But the purpose could hardly be more important: The vast majority of the thoughts and information that allow each generation to sustain and improve our civilization, building on the trial and error and discoveries of the past, are written down, retrievable only by those who can fluently read. And as an old colleague frequently warned, those who cannot recall the past are doomed to have people continually quote George Santayana at them.