by Stephanie Barros
April 2014

“Oh, I don’t read.”

Just like that my jaw dropped, nose crinkled like a foul odor had just seeped into the air, face twisted in disgust and a thousand newly sharpened knives came flying into my body and heart.

This simple kind of response has become popular to my ears when I question someone on what their favorite novel is. They haven’t even picked up enough books for pleasure to be able to mindlessly spurt out a random title at me. It is mind bending and heart twisting to me every time I come to the realization that people do not read the way we as a society once did. Television, computers, cell phones, and the World Wide Web have appeared and festered themselves deep within our culture, absorbing any and nearly all attention. With all the snazzy new technology appearing around the world, books seldom bring pleasure to the easily distracted mind.

In 2007 a 99 page report was released by the National Endowment for the Arts which included more than 40 studies by universities, foundations, business groups, and government agencies since 2004. Among its findings was that almost half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 never read books for pleasure (Mehegan). According to the United States census in 2010, there are approximately 30,672,000 people within that age group. In other words about 15,336,000 people in that age group alone never pick up a book to read for enjoyment. Bewilderingly, over fifteen million people never walk into a library to find a novel, never enter a book store to find their newest form of entertainment, and never sit down to read just because they want to. Similarly, in 2004, another report, “Reading at Risk,” found that fewer than half of Americans over 18 read novels, short stories, plays or poetry (Rich).  Undoubtedly, many have lost sight of the value of literature.

As an avid reader and lover of books, I could never fathom a life deprived of, in the words of Stephen King, the “uniquely portable magic” that are books. I must visit a library at least two times a week so that I may find a new treasure to entertain myself with. Books can provide entertainment wherever you go. They allow you to never again experience a dull moment while waiting at a bus stop or waiting for calming drowsiness to sink in before going to bed. A good book can fix any predicament of boredom, but often even that promise doesn’t provide enough motivation to read.

Not everyone has the time or can manage to put in the effort to visit bookstores or libraries frequently or read regularly, especially since we are all so different from one another. Interests, hobbies, dislikes, and personality, in general, differ uniquely from person to person. We all may have different passions and varying hobbies, but reading isn’t just about the entertainment factor. It is not just about the joy that can come from sitting down with a genuinely astounding, well-written book. It also involves the enrichment and growth that comes out of it – enlightenment and illumination that you simply cannot find anywhere else.

Like many other things in the world, reading is a skill that is developed and polished over time. If you leave it untouched long enough, it will become rusty and tarnished. Leaving such a valuable skill wasted and neglected inevitably reflects throughout school-life and work-life. One out of every five American workers reads at a lower level than necessary to do his or her job (Mehegan). To walk into a job you believe to be qualified for but, in reality, do not posses the reading skills to do with the best of your ability, is disappointing and presents a considerable disadvantage. It is particularly upsetting because it is something that we can work to avoid purely by enriching our lives with alluring literature. Delighting in the written word will benefit in the professional world in more ways than just the ability to skillfully and effectively fulfill your occupational roles. In addition, better reading skills are correlated with higher income (Rich). This problem with an aversion to reading frequently arises when people are younger and, often never getting fixed, follows them into their career endeavors, as well as holds them back from advancement and further success.

Prior to affecting a person in their career, lack of reading becomes apparent while people are in school and undergoing examinations. When it comes to kids that are still in school, reading scores seem to stay flat among middle school students and began to decline throughout high school. This trend continues once they enter college. Students who read for fun nearly every day, however, appear to perform better on reading tests than those who never, or hardly ever, read recreationally (Rich). Without question, a lack of reading produces lower reading scores – Wow, big surprise. Although, that isn’t all. Young scholars who don’t passionately avoid books but embrace them daily, overall, excel in school. An increase in the average scores in science, civics, and history, subjects that are all reading-based, is also seen (Mehegan).

Irrefutably, keeping away from books and the act of reading doesn’t just hinder people’s ability to read. It also inhibits a person’s ability to fully comprehend these other subjects that rely heavily on reading skills and comprehension. Surely, while we are all guilty of it, sitting in front of a computer for innumerable hours, mindlessly watching videos of kittens and laughing babies on the internet, will not provide anyone with these necessarily abilities.

Technology is an element that contributes significantly to the reasons why people seem to be growingly less interested in books. Having hundreds of words staring back at you from inside of a book can seem daunting. Especially when it is far easier to unwind your mind and sit in front of the television screen. In response to this observation, I conducted an online survey asking participants whether they spent more time in front of a television or with their nose buried in a book for fun. An overwhelming majority of 76% of respondents said that television occupies more of their time. Similarly, a separate survey found that the average person between the ages of 15 and 24 spends about 2 to 2 1/2 hours a day watching television, but only about 7 minutes reading (Mehegan). Those short seven minutes more likely than not, for most people, are spent distracted. Whether they are spent while pulling out the cell phone to check for text messages from the stud at work, eyeballing the online inbox for e-mails or stepping away for a moment to do something on the computer, it is evident that our society is preoccupied by these electronic conveniences which surround us.

These devices, enhanced with the internet, make our life easier in so many ways. They provide us with answers for those random questions we have throughout the day and keep us connected with the people we care about. However, they also consume our attention and our ability to see the immense and overwhelming beauty in literature, poetry and the rest of the written word that so many have strived their entire lives to contribute to.

“God, it’s so boring” were some of the first words that came out at me when I read a blog post on the topic of reading from a 22 year old man in Canada. That crinkle of my nose and twisting of my face was beginning again, but I pushed through, curious to see how his opinion differed from my own. And it did. Dramatically. “I sit down, I open the book, and there’s, like, words… God it’s so boring. I have a television sitting right there… Reading is out dated. People read because they had no television” (Harakiri823). I’ve picked up a boring book, but I’ve also flipped through a hundred channels on a television and had nothing catch my attention or intrigue my mind. Books are unexciting if you pick up what doesn’t interest you.

The glory of reading for pleasure is that you can select whatever you want. When you walk into a library or bookstore hundreds of books are lined up for you – books that would suit any and every personality or interest. If one gives them the opportunity, those words will provide you entertainment, while also granting further development of the mind for the academic and professional worlds. Of course, if you prefer… Sit down, throw that book aside, turn on that television and let those hundreds of frames per second enter through your vision while you ignore the pages that can provide your mind so much more substance.

Books can aid in your ability to read and write, teach you a spectrum of morals and lessons, push you forward in school and your career, as well as be a companion and distraction in times of stress, boredom, sadness, or contentment. They can bring out the best in places that technology cannot. That is not something anyone should avoid. Books are a delicacy so few enjoy and so many do not take the opportunity to indulge in. So, read. Be unhesitant in the devouring of books. Soak yourself in the enticing literature the world has to offer instead of drowning yourself in the technological possessions that consume you. Surround yourself with books and reward your mind with their extraordinary presence.

Works Cited

Harakiri823. “Why Reading Sucks.” Blogspot. 1 Dec. 2005. Web.
Mehegan, David. “Young People Reading A Lot Less”. Boston. 19 Nov. 2007. Web.
Rich, Motoko. “Study Links Drop in Test Scores to a Decline in Time Spent Reading”. The New York Times. 19 Nov. 2007. Web.

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