Monday, November 19, 2007

Like Breathing

Saw a link to this article from the Washington Post today. Short version: Kids don't read. People don't read. This is bad.

The story the numbers tell, Gioia said, can be summed up in about four sentences:

"We are doing a better job of teaching kids to read in elementary school. But once they enter adolescence, they fall victim to a general culture which does not encourage or reinforce reading. Because these people then read less, they read less well. Because they read less well, they do more poorly in school, in the job market and in civic life."

This hits home, of course, because I come from a long line of book addicts. My house is full of books (kinda overflowing...sorry for those who have to squeeze into the guest room!). We read all the time; all of us.

Anecdote: Last week, we went for a parent-teacher-student conference at our (six-and-a-half year old) daughter's school. One of the exercises in the conference was for each of us to list strengths, challenges, goals, and action plans for our daughter. One of the things that surprised me when my daughter was listing her strengths was that she left out reading. That's probably the area where she excels most, and it could be called her defining characteristic. She's always walking around, carrying a book and reading it.

It occurs to me that she doesn't see this as a strength: everyone around her (at home, anyway) is always reading, too. It reminds me of an experience my wife related, where she was at a class, and people went around the room listing their hobbies. She was surprised how many people listed "Reading" as a hobby. She'd never thought of it as one, though she reads daily, because "it's like breathing, just something you do." It seems it's like that for our daughter, too. We have always read with, to, and around her. We read for pleasure, read for work, just read.

Now, I realize that this is atypical. We read far more than most people. But I also realize we're reading so much that we (and people like us) skew the averages upward. Which makes the overall decline in reading all the more disturbing to me.

So, go out and read a book in public. Support your public library. Support your local bookstores, especially independent ones. Make it visible; make it popular. Carry a book with you so people see what you're doing. Talk about what you read. Especially around young people. They need to know that reading is a Good Thing, and not just in the "taking your medicine" sense. It may not be as easy as watching TV, but it's much more rewarding.


Laura E. Goodin said...

Well, we're sure doing our bit!

Coincidentally, I've been wearing a t-shirt today with the Mona Lisa on it, and it says "Master the art of reading." That's from my mom, the librarian!

Anonymous said...

I like your guest room the way it is. It's like bedding down in a library. Being around books makes me feel at home, and if I'm done with the book I brought I can always pull something interesting off your shelves. Don't change a thing, and don't apologize!

Houston Dunleavy said...

Long live the readers! J K Rowling aside though, there is the conventional wisdom that "kid's lit" is big business. There are few big authors for teenagers though, John Marsden the exception.

You raise a couple of interesting questions for me though.

Do we get over the fact that reading can only be called that if it's from a book?

Are new stories possible?

Do we, as leaders or members of a generation that has made the online explosion possible , bear some of the responsibility for the decrease in paper-based reading?

Do we have the right to complain if books disappear altogether except from museums, where future dweebs like us can stare at a copy of a beauifully preserved copy of a Danielle Steele book, taking its rightful place beside the Book of Kells?

Just wonderin' is all.....