Why don’t we read more?
October 12, 2011 § 32 Comments
Reading needs to go through some rebranding. People think about reading as work or an obligation or something people do because that’s what cultured people do. It’s not thought of as an opportunity for escape or relaxation.”But wait,” you say. “There isn’t enough time to read. Life is just too busy.” My answer is invariably: that’s the kind of thing you tell your spouse when they mention the house is getting dirty or your teacher when they’ve assigned an undue amount of homework. According to Nielsen Research the average American watches 34 hours of TV a week. That’s almost five hours a day, and practically the amount of time spent at a full time job. Something tells me the average American isn’t reading 34 hours a week. The average American isn’t even reading daily.
So why isn’t reading as popular as these other mediums of entertainment, and why is it declining? Perhaps I’m biased, but I don’t think it’s because reading is an inferior form of entertainment to television, film, or video games. I don’t want to demonize any of those things; I enjoy them all and–more importantly–I don’t think the best way to convince people to read is telling them how terrible their other hobbies are. I just wish I could get the point across that reading has whole worlds to explore, and characters whose heads you can get inside of, and literally endless hours of enjoyment. I’ve fallen victim to this negative view of reading myself. I love to read and grew up doing a ton of it, but for some reason I can only think of one or two books I ever enjoyed that were required reading for English classes, despite there being some great books in the mix. Somehow my favorite hobby was turned into a chore. Is it just because I was a teenager and didn’t like being told do things, even if they were things I usually enjoyed? Maybe, but I don’t know if that’s an excuse. Of all the things that I think we should be teaching kids about reading in school, I think the most important message should be that reading is fun. It’s a great escape and a great opportunity for adventure. To me, reading classics should take a back seat to this. That probably sounds like blasphemy to some people, but I think it’s more important for kids to develop good reading skills than it is for them to be able to quote Shakespeare and explain the themes of A Tale of Two Cities, and those reading skills are best developed when kids are practicing their reading skills regularly outside of school in addition to in it.
How do we carry over the excitement from a phenomenon like Harry Potter or Twilight or The Help for that matter to all the other books? How do we wave a banner and say “Hey, look over here. There are other books in the library.” Why are people reading less? Why doesn’t reading (generally) engender as much excitement as other forms of entertainment? When people do get excited about reading, what inhibits that excitement from transcending a book or series to reading as a whole? What can we do better to get people of all ages more excited about reading? What have you seen that’s worked, what hasn’t, and what would you like to see tried?