On Readers and Reading

Read1 I had a plan today. It was to sit my behind down at a computer and get in a solid word count for Wolfen. I am so close to the finish line I can smell it. But while I was doing my daily social media rounds, I came across an article that completely derailed my train of thought. It was about reading, and the decline in male readership. If you have a few minutes to spare, I encourage you to check it out here. The statistics and survey responses are really something.

So my plan changed. Instead of writing a chapter or two, I came here to write a blog. But what’s a blog without pictures? Therefore, in a separate tab, I opened a stock image site and did a quick search for “reading.” Here’s what I found:

Read6 Read2
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Pages and pages of three types of images: Books, parents reading with children, and older generations enjoying a book or newspaper. What I did not find was much of this:

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Younger generations. A massive segment of the world’s population was completely omitted. It’s as if the teen-to-forty age group never picks up a book–to say nothing of the fact that most of these images depicted Caucasian subjects. It might seem like a small thing, but think about what it means. Stock images are supplied to meet a demand. If there’s no supply, it most likely means there is no demand.

Okay, so I may be grasping on that one, but it seems to me yet another symptom of an epidemic. We live in an age of overstimulation. We are constantly bombarded by messages and information. We hold at our fingertips a device that can connect us not only to any living being with a similar device, but to the whole of humanity’s knowledge and history (and yes, we use it to look at pictures of cats). We are trained to expect more, better, faster, now! Our attention spans have plummeted from being able to patiently travel hours and miles for a live play or concert to tapping our foot when the two-minute YouTube trailer won’t load right away.

That hurts us. Because in the race to satisfaction, books are marathons, not a sprint. They take time to write, to discover, and to enjoy. They require focus and imagination, the ability to read yourself into the story until it feels like you are living it. If you’ve trained your brain for a sprint, you won’t bother with a marathon. You might not think you have what it takes to go the distance, so you rather wait for the movie, or a friend to tell you what it’s all about.

Reading is good. It expands our minds, frees our thoughts, teaches us patience, and allows us to peek into the most secret thoughts of another person. It also makes us smarter.

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Back to the article I have mentioned earlier. I happen to agree with Matt Haig’s opinion. Men don’t read because they find no interest in the books available to them (and, considering that the vast majority of popular books these days are either romance, erotica, or young adult genre, it makes sense). The less they read, the less publishers will be inclined to put out books to entice them, continuing the cycle.  But this is not just an issue of men vs. women. It’s a matter of finding a book you enjoy reading, and it’s not always as easy as checking out Amazon reviews.

I know. I’ve been there.

I suppose it’s time I revealed my deep dark secret. I was not always a reader. As a child, I used to love books for their own sake. I used to have bookshelves of them, mostly fairy tale and mythology books, and I loved looking at them, taking them out and staring at the pictures, but I very rarely read the actual words. The first books I read were required for school. It was a chore, even while I enjoyed some of them, but the inclination to voluntarily pick up another one wasn’t there. Where I come from, books were only sold hardbound. They were expensive, a luxury, you might say. Available, but you really had to consider whether or not a particular book was something you wanted to keep for years to come before you purchased it.

I didn’t pick up a book on my own until halfway through high school. It was a contemporary romance with a bright, colorful cover that caught my eye at the grocery store. It was my gateway book, and I was hooked from chapter one.

The point is, if you don’t read, it’s intimidating as hell to walk into a library or bookstore and be confronted with thousands upon thousands of books. How are you supposed to know where to start? How do you decide which book to look at first? A thirsty man might like a drink of water, but throw him in a pool and he will drown. The world of books has become so overabundant with choices, it’s not just a skill to read a book, but to go out and find one. The advent of eReaders has made reading easier for habit readers, but I don’t know about non-readers. A physical book at least gives you an idea of what you’re getting into. The cover, the font, the size and weight. You see the spines on the shelves, organized by author and title. You can flip through the pages, read a random passage and see if it’s something you want to take on.

But what do you do when you see just a mosaic of best seller covers and a search window?

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3 thoughts on “On Readers and Reading

  1. aletifer

    Interesting article, to be sure. When diagnosing the problem, one thing I think it’s important to understand is that the world has already changed when it comes to how people read.

    In another study I came across last year, 55% of America’s internet users–all of ’em–now have access to a tablet. Of those, about 15% of them signed on to a new digital magazine subscription in the same month that the survey was conducted. A separate Pew Research study has said that 42% of tablet users “regularly read in-depth news articles,” and the average daily reading time spent on a tablet was just under an hour (about the same as the average time spent on a print mag.) The future isn’t in tablets and eReaders anymore; we’re talking present day.

    This kind of data gives me hope because before the internet boom, “books” had become very rigid things. Chapbooks, serial novels and cross-genre stories had a hard time finding a place on the shelves; outlets made plenty of room instead for easily identifiable, easily promotable books that contained no surprises in terms of format or narrative structure.

    But with eReaders and the rise of self-publishing, there’s an enormous opportunity to read great material a traditional bookstore would likely reject. Sure, there’s a whole lot of crap out there, but wading through the sea to find your own private treasure-trove is a new, necessary process we all have to learn how to follow.

    I use my e-Reader every single day. I’ll find novellas, 30-page features, illustrated shorts and essays (essays! Essays are back and they’re interesting again!) I’ll want to read later, so I simply e-mail documents to myself and pick them up when I get a chance.

    One of the most fundamental responsibilities public schools have is to teach our children how to read. But today, if people aren’t reading in the midst of what is simply unprecedented access to reading material, then maybe we need to invest a lot of time into teaching people how to find what they would want to read.

    • Alianne

      Agreed. But they should also be teaching an appreciation for books. I keep hearing very bad rumors that the curriculum is changing, instead of reading for the meaning, students are supposed to be taught how to read for pronunciation or something like that. It’s sliding far back from what it should be and, frankly, makes me worry for future generations. No bones about it, schools are starting to make kids dumber.

      On Thu, Apr 17, 2014 at 5:47 PM, Alianne Donnelly wrote:

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