Sunday, May 1, 2011

Think About Reading

I'll proudly wear the title of Literary Snob. I'm okay with that, I admit it. There are some authors that I won't read because their books don't contain what I think of as "good" writing. They may be engaging stories, but their writing is simplistic and basic. Their characters are flat. No depth.

So, yes, I'm a Literary Snob. I'd rather stay a more-or-less unpublished writer than be an author of a flatly written book. That's just me. I value good literature. Likewise, it's what I strive to write.

However, I also believe that if millions of people are reading a poorly written book, that is far better than not reading any book at all.

Think about everything you might read in a day, words you read without even thinking about it. When I became a tutor for a local literacy organization, I realized just how much I take my reading ability for granted. Twice a week I meet with a student who managed to graduate from high school without knowing how to read fluently. Every day she faces struggles that the average adult knows nothing about. Menus, prescription bottles, recipes, receipts, billboard signs, ingredients on a box of cereal, and on and on.

Although poor writing, grammar, and proofreading skills irk me, having poor reading and reading comprehension skills sadden me. It saddens me because it is often under-privileged children who are the victims of poor reading skills. Through no fault of their own, these children may start school already academically behind their peers, simply because nobody has ever read to them or taken them to a library or even showed them a book.

But what about the children who are not under-privileged? I don't want to make this an issue about the public education system in the United States; that's only part of the problem.

A larger part of the problem in this country has to do with our society's values (or lack thereof?). A large chunk of people in our society put emphasis on the wrong things: money, status, fashion, outer beauty..., to name a few. An enlightening article from the April 18th Publishers Weekly articulated this idea nicely for me. In "The Light at the End of the Publishing Tunnel? On finding fans, not formats," Rudy Shur writes that "[i]nstead of focusing on how our books are going to be delivered to the reading public, we ought to be concerned with who will be left to read books."

Think about that for a moment.

Additionally, he cites that video game sales surpass book sales. Twenty years ago, books were a common form of entertainment. Now, though, a lot of people look for ways to BE entertained, as opposed to finding a way to entertain themselves. To that point, Shur writes: "While other countries focus on educating their children, we seem more focused on amusing them.... However, the responsibility of raising children who value education, and hence read, in any form, is no longer a priority. Without a vibrant and growing reading public to buy e-books or tree-books, who are we going to sell our titles to in the future?"

I will counter Shur here and suggest that many people will still buy books (e-books or otherwise); for some, it's about status--a way to show off their e-gadget--or a way of appearing intellectual. Whether they will read them or not...?

Perhaps the people who have earbuds fused to their brains, ipods sutured to their pockets, and cell phones superglued to their hands actually take e-breaks when they are alone. Turn off the tunes, switch off the television, and power down the laptop. And, then, maybe they simply sit on the couch with a book (or an e-reader).

Ahhh.... Simple pleasures. When I learned to read, my mom told me that a book could transport me anywhere, that I could do anything or be anyone by reading. Not only that, but I soon discovered all sorts of stuff I could learn by reading!

Think about reading. Actually, don't just think about it. Read to yourself or read to someone else. Read to a child!

But, mostly...READ.

1 comment:

  1. Well said. I used to volunteer with an adult literacy program, and seeing the difference between my ability to be a snob and those who struggle to read anything was quite an experience. I was often moved by my students passion to learn, despite the obstacles before them.