Lileks: No. 3 most literate - but are we any more smarter?

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 26, 2012 - 7:38 PM

Minneapolis are the third most literate city in the America, according to a new survey from Central Connecticut State University. (School motto: "Who?")

We used to be firstest, but in the past few years the Mill City have slipped in the ratings, eclipsed by Washington, D.C.

This is completely unfair.

People in D.C. may buy books, but they don't read them. They go to bookstores for politicians' biographies -- arrayed in the nonfiction department, just for laughs -- or they buy politicians' policy manifestos, like "Bringing America Back: A Path to Tomorrow" or "Tomorrow's America: The Path to Back-Bringing" or some such slab of stale hard cheese. No one reads these things.

If you're wondering about the criteria, one of the marks of literacy is "visiting a newspaper website once a week." While I'm happy they include this metric, there should be points detracted if anyone in the city leaves a comment on a story along the following lines:

yah another witewash of the libtards plan for giving more moeny to the unions WAKE UP SHEEPLE

Or:

Oh boo hoo does the teabagger have his string in a not???? Keep on hating, America

And that's about a story about extending hours for the animal shelter.

Don't get me wrong. It's a great standard, visiting a newspaper website. It goes right along with all the other attributes that win the city honors every year: Best City for Walking, Best City for Biking, Best City for Ambling Around the Lake While Nodding With a Smile to Something Terry Gross Just Said, Best City for Artisanal Shaved-Fig Ice Cream Made From Sustainably Obtained Cream, Best City for Incredible Theater, Best City for Average Theater But the Cast Is Trying Hard and They're All in the Lobby Afterward So Act Impressed.

The innumerable accolades this remarkable burg accumulates pile up daily, and it's not just Minneapolis. Include St. Paul and all the burbs. Sure, St. Paul is No. 13 on the most-literate list, but c'mon. It's not as if the 16A bus crosses the border between the cities and the driver stops, walks down the aisle, slaps the New York Times out of your hands and replaces it with a Dick and Jane reader.

But it's not the fact that we read, it's what we read and what we do with the information we glean. Right?

Say Minneapolis is No. 1 in literacy, but everyone believes that the world sits on the back of an enormous tortoise. In that case, literacy means little. It's one of those virtues that needs to be connected to something to have any meaning. Taken by itself as an Automatic Good, it's like praising pre-revolutionary Libya because everyone took public transportation to the mandatory rallies.

Critical thinking, that's the key.

For example. When it comes to the stadium, I support the Metrodome location. Light rail's right there. It would balance out the Twins stadium on the other end of town and that would just look AWESOME in a satellite view on Google.

Sure, I might lose my parking space during construction, but it's better than the basilica location; an enormous stadium by the venerable church would leach away the impact afforded by its isolation and prominence.

But since I'm a Minneapolis booster to the marrow, I'll take the basilica locale over Arden Hills, or Shakopee, or the latest proposal to build it underwater in Lake Minnetonka -- seriously, it looks cool with the submarine light rail, but a retractable roof? Dude.

As a literate man, I have read all the ideas, weighed the proposals, made my choice. Each day, when the paper hits the doorstep, I wonder how it's going to go. It's exciting!

And then I remember: There was a time when we were debating if there was going to be a new stadium. Somehow that became where. That's the most remarkable, friction-free segue I've ever seen. It's like a magician who starts by sawing a woman in half and winds up pulling a rabbit out of a hat -- then gives you a bill for the saw and the wood.

How did that happen? Then I remember that we're talking about spending millions on the stadium and that my kid's sixth-grade class charges $67 if kids want to be in the school play. Even if they're in the chorus -- 67 clams.

I know. Apples and oranges. It's not either/or. But it's a reminder that literacy isn't enough.

It's nice to live in a city that can read the lines. It's even better to live in one that can read between them, too.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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