Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Encouraging Reading to Create Booklovers
At the recent Texas Book Festival in Austin I found myself conversing with a librarian and a sales rep for Penguin Publishing while waiting in the long line for Crepes in the outdoor food court. Part of the discussion was the decline in reading in the country especially among young people. The reality of our discussion I read in an article I found online where Jordan Weissmann speaks in The Atlantic (2014) about the decline of reading. He pointed out that recent research showed that about 25% of American adults had done no book reading in the previous year. He pointed out a Gallup study that showed in 1978 that 42 % of adults read 11 books and then a recent Pew study showed that percentage had declined to 28%. He correctly points out that a major difference is that in this modern era there is an increase of technological gadgetry to sidetrack from reading. Students at the college level that I speak with in classes agree that most of their technology time is spent watching videos or chatting through texting not reading.
Weissmann is optimistic in his article, in that he shows that the statistic of readers had stabilized so he is not seeing further decline. Myself I would like to see the 28% go back up to 42%. His article ends with bar graphs in response to a question “How many Americans Read a Book for Pleasure Last Year?”. The years reported were 1992, 2002, 2008, and 2012. The last two years showed a stable mid 50s percentage. One problem I have is the question is stated in the singular “book”. How about working on getting people involved in their local library reading more than one book a year? I think that can happen if we encourage the importance of reading. That is why I promote reading in the classes I teach to college students.
I also came across a column by Dr. Howard Gardner back in 2008 he makes good points that even in our digital age that literacy will continue to grow. He doesn’t worry because “it’s essential to read and write fluently.” That is a point I discuss with my college students. They do get it. They will tell me they prefer just watching videos to entertain themselves and an easy way to get information. Yet they admit the work it takes to read pays off in a stronger thinking capacity and better creativity.
Gardner brings out important differences in our modern quick hi-tech media. One is that it limits authors’ ability to organize complex arguments that takes time for the reader to work through. He uses Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” as an example due to what he calls “The Web’s speedy browsing.” I see it more that the web makes the mind lazy in that everything has to be written in short sound bites of low mental fluff. I have actually had students admit to that point that the quick information and videos make them mentally lazy. That is why I encourage building up the mind with critical thinking skills.
Gardner also looks at another aspect of reading that is changing with technology and that is the solitude of reading where an individual would spend hours alone being absorbed in their book reading. I remember as a child enjoying hours of reading in the Summer. He points out rightly that young people today because of social media cannot enjoy solitude, but need to be continually connected with checking social media with their network of friends. I question whether this is really a good thing? Isn’t there a benefit to encouraging a break away from the connection to staring at the tech gadgets that control so many lives? Why not encourage a balance between using social media and web surfing to also include a 30 minutes a day of reading of a book?
I was encouraged on a recent Sunday evening at a Bible study where a young couple walked in and their little girl was holding several children books. She is just a one year old but they are incorporating books into her life by reading to her. They told the group about the 1,000 book challenge. It is a program to encourage parents to have their children starting at age 1 to be involved in reading to their child and having the child read up to 1,000 books before kindergarten. That sounds like a positive way to be creating future booklovers. If you want to know more information on the program here is the website for the organization behind it -- http://1000booksbeforekindergarten.org/
Reflection - How can you encourage others around you to read more? Do you enjoy reading a book in solitude? If you have difficulty finding time to read start out with reading a book just 30 minutes a day or even every other day.
Gardner, H, (Feb. 17. 2008) The End of Literacy? Don’t Stop Reading. In the washingtonpost.com
Weissmann, J. (Jan.21.2014) The Decline of the American Book Lover. The Atlantic.