January 25, 2014
Read Any Good Books Lately?
Recently I read an article on The Atlantic website about the decline of the American book or, more appropriately, the decline of the American book reader. According to that article, the Pew Research Center released information that about 25 percent of American adults did not read a single book last year. Moreover, the average amount of books read last year by males was ten and females read 14. At best, that is a little over a book a month.
Every semester I deal with students who claim to hate reading. I have often wondered why (although I have speculated often), and this Pew research shows me that at least partially this hatred comes from a lack of exposure. If a quarter of American adults did not even crack a book in 2013, suffice it to say many kids likely are not being exposed to reading at home. Plus, if parents claim to hate reading, then naturally the children will do the same at least initially. We do, after all, mimic our parents.
This research saddens me. I try to read at least a book a week and often read more like three or four books a week. In a particularly active reading week, I can read about a book a day. I actively seek out moments to read. When I am at the doctor’s office or having my tires rotated or oil changed or waiting in line, I whip out a book and read. Every night before bed I read at least a chapter and regularly much more than that. I read several books at a time so that I have books in my purse, car, office, by my bed and couch, and even with me at all times via my Kindle app on my phone and tablet. Reading is so much a part of my life that I even teach it.
Reading allows us to step into another place, another person, another experience for just a bit. It allows us to vicariously experience something that we may not otherwise have an opportunity to do. Let’s take fantasy novels, for instance. We live in a world where magic does not exist, at least not the kind that allows one to shoot fire from her fingertips. But in a fantasy novel, we can do just that because the words create a vivid impression. We are not just reading about someone; we are the main character. In realism, if we read a book set in, say, Vienna but we have never traveled to the famed European city, we can be in Vienna through the story. And who has not fallen in love with a character or characters? We can experience the relationships of the characters safely.
And really, isn’t that what so appeals to the reality TV crowd? The relationships? The main difference is that we use our imaginations to create the characters and worlds. Plus, when we read a book, we have the collective experience of other people’s reactions. Book clubs exist primarily so that readers can commune together. Sometimes this community falls in love with a book while other times they commiserate over the work. The point is, here, that readers for centuries have connected over words, over stories. When we read Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, we connect with all others who have read his works. This is a beautiful thing.
And all of these are why we must fight for reading. The secret happiness in The Atlantic story is that more than half of the Americans who did read, read a book outside of work or school. In other words, they read a book just for fun. This means that we haven’t lost our chance to help others find the joy and inspiration in reading, but we must voice that joy and inspiration. We must be positive about reading and show others just how fantastic reading can be.
This is why I adore teaching literature classes. I hope my enthusiasm and passion for words and for reading spread to my students. I may not affect all of them. I may not change them into voracious readers, but they do learn that reading can be fun. Well, at least they experience my love for reading. All I can hope is that through me, through the class, they find the inspiration to read more. I have no illusions of grandeur, but I also know that I love, love, love reading, and passion can be incredibly powerful.
Reading is important for creativity. Reading is necessary for learning and education. Reading is an opportunity. Reading improves our health. Reading has benefits beyond recognition. We must help others to see just how important reading books really is to our happy, healthy lives. Together we can remind our fellow Americans just how good a book can be.
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