Preposterous Universe

Tuesday, March 02, 2004
Subway books

On NPR this morning, a teaser for The World mentioned a story this afternoon about a new program in Mexico: they are going to hand out free books to people riding the subway. (Here's a version of the story from Newsday.) Apparently Mexico has the highest literacy rate in Latin America (about 90%), but people don't really spend that much time actually reading, so the program make it easy for people to read in a context where they can't do much else. Hopefully the reading will catch on, maybe even cut down on crime in the subways.

Now, as an idealistic liberal, this sounds like pure genius to me. But realistically there are a couple of questions. First, is this really going to work, or is it just a fantasy cooked up by Mexican liberals who are as starry-eyed and idealistic as I am? Second, who chooses the books? From the story it appears that they are publishing special books of short stories for the occasion, but someone has to decide who gets included. Can you imagine the political (or even literary) wranglings over that one?

So far only about 64 percent of the books have been returned. That doesn't sound so bad, actually, and I can imagine that people will quit swiping them if they are consistently available for free on the subways. Besides, it's kind of encouraging that people would want to steal books at all.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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