What Happened to Reading?

Now I know that there’s a certain degree of irony attached to this post. Just now you read my question on why people don’t read anymore. I’m not really talking about reading in the the sense of skimming the occasional article online, though. Before anyone tries to point it out- yeah, I’m aware that the medium for communication has shifted a lot since video is now accessible to pretty much everyone.

I’m talking about books, people. When did we stop reading books?

I would go bankrupt buying books with gifs for illustrations…

I can’t count how many times I’ve been reading a book in public and people act as if I’ve started cleaning a black-powder musket.

For whatever reason, people seem genuinely surprised that you perform the archaic ritual known as “reading”.

Think about it. When was the last time you saw someone reading a book in public?

I’m by no means a gregarious guy, but even so, I can’t actually recall the last time I saw someone on a bus or in a restaurant or waiting room with their nose in a book.

I’m guessing the most readily available explanation (and if you will, scapegoat) for all this would be technology. In part, that has to be true. When you can stream movie or episode of Scrubs off of your phone during lunch break, why bother with a book? If you can be entertained anywhere at any time, why read?

Because reading is different.

Really the key issue with trying to blame technology for people not reading is that people think that people only read for the purposes of entertainment, or (and this is a big one) that book-entertainment is indistinguishable from the fun you’d have watching a movie. That’s really not the case. Books offer such a different experience from TV that I don’t think I even need to explain it.

This gif gets more horrific the longer you look at it.

And I guess even framing the question this way is wrong. Demanding to know “what happened to reading?” kinda implies reading used to be a thing. Granted, we used to do it more than we do today, but even a couple decades ago, it didn’t seem to be that big of a thing. Not if the media, music, and (yes, still ironically) literature of that time is to be believed.

Seriously, **** this decade.

Seems to me that anyone who talks about books does so by saying “Back in high school…” Red Badge of Courage, Superfudge, The Hobbit, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Oliver Twist, A Wrinkle in Time, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Hatchet, The Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy, Maus, The Toothpaste Millionaire– if you didn’t perk up at the sound of one of these titles, there’s something fundamentally wrong with you.

Seriously, you’re a worse person than Joffrey.

I guess it’s partly because books are expensive.

You blow upwards of twenty bucks on a novel really without a whole lot to go on. I’m not immune to this either- the books I buy are usually, if not exclusively- by authors I’ve enjoyed in the past.

My chops will never be as magnificent as this man’s…

It’s not like writers a millionaires, either. Despite the dream of being some roguish, dashing literary rock-star, the majority of writers work a day job, if not two. We can talk about reducing book prices, but any more than what we have already would probably turn writing into something you pay to do. And besides, we have plenty of used book stores selling classic paperbacks at a dime a dozen.

We need to incorporate this phrase into every day usage…

No, I really think the fault is somewhere with the consumers. Do we just not respect reading anymore? Did we ever? I might speculate that the love of reading isn’t being instilled in us anymore, but I love reading, and I was really never taught to appreciate it. I just started reading and haven’t since been able to understand why people aren’t doing it their every waking second.

Admit it. One way or another, this is all you do at work…

I don’t have an answer to any of these questions. No theory out there seems to have a believable explanation as to why nobody reads, and I haven’t been able to come up with one either. Well, except for one.

I don’t think I’ve met a kid who doesn’t like to read (or be read to, if they don’t know how themselves). I wouldn’t say that the majority of our literary classics are made for a younger audience, but they definitely seem to be read mostly by a younger audience. Whether it’s books like Old Yeller and The Giver or Beowulf and Pride and Prejudice, the people most likely to have read or be reading these books are kids and teens.

So what happens?

Somewhere between the end of high school and the beginning of adult life reading books go from a part of life to something you might tell yourself you’ll do on vacation. Is it a time thing? Are there just too many other (or better) forms of entertainment suddenly available when you grow up?

I’m just gonna leave this here…

I just don’t know.

What do you guys think?

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4 responses to “What Happened to Reading?

  1. I know at least when it comes to fiction reading is the hardest thing for me to stop doing. I’d sooner walk away from a meal and not come back. So when I get the chance to devour a book I do just that, with every spare moment I have. It becomes perilous. Couple that with a desire to own the books I read (a habit I should really break) and the high cost you mentioned and I find myself not reading much.

  2. Well, part of it might be that people aren’t as /visibly/ reading, i.e. reading on their Kindle or iPhone. I know I’ve started doing a lot of that–I’m reading just as much (if not more) as I have in the past, I just look like I’m texting instead of reading.

  3. Have you been living under a rock?
    So media has evolved, and people don’t read as much as they used to, you say? I think that’s an oversight and an overstatement of any real problem. For starters, i’ll just leave this here. http://undergroundnewyorkpubliclibrary.com/
    Bookstores are still the coolest place in most shopping malls and districts: they’re big, flashy stores with coffee shops and play areas–they’re not going out of business. Well not yet. So we lost one of the big chains a few years ago, yes. And it is hard to run a used bookstore. (probably articles or at least whiny blogposts about that all over the internet)
    While your article is based mostly on your impressions and hearsay, so is my response. MY impression is that the only readers “we” have really lost are the ones who would be reading trashy pop fiction novels. And instead, they’re watching trashy evening dramas and pandering youtube vlogs and sketches. pandering to their tastes.
    I don’t know that heavy readers have ever been a majority–unless you move to elite circles. And if you go to those places, there are still tons of readers. If you go to any academic’s house, their decoration would be incomplete without a jam-packed bookshelf.
    Further, I have a high school acquaintance who took to self-publishing on Amazon his teen-Christian fiction: and it sells–albeit not to a huge audience, but it still sells.
    There are still readers out there.

    Furthermore, I’m amused at your point that you’ve never met a kid who doesn’t like to read. As an English teacher, that just sounds silly. On the one hand, it’s my job to make sure everyone who goes through that system can and DOES read. It can’t fully guarantee it, but most of them do. They read. They may or may not enjoy the experience. It may or may not be their favorite thing to do.

    Finally, I will cite my church. I live in a country where reading is not really common practice. It’s not culturally praised or encouraged. Women will stay up late watching soap operas with their children rather than read them a book to tuck them in. Reading is seen as a task that they have to–for some stupid reason–accomplish to get through school. The classics they are made to read–and often don’t–in school are high-n-mighty classist romances with dense vocabularies and insipid love triangles that are really hard to get at. The entertaining stuff that draws the reader in is seen as drivel by the Ministry of Education. But at my church, there are readers. Most people just read the Bible. But many of them will come to church with the Bible and another book under their arm. Or they will refer to it in conversation. In my group of friends, those of us who read fiction for fun are a minority. But we’re a loud minority. I still run into people who /want to/ read the book before they see the movie.

    Reading is not dead. I just don’t think you’ve looked hard enough.

    • I don’t think Gordon’s been living under a rock, just in a place where he hasn’t been able to observe people reading, hence the entire point of his post.

      You summed it up pretty well when you said: “your article is based mostly on your impressions and hearsay, so is my response.” He can only write about that which he experiences, and that’s bound to clash with the experiences of others.

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