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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 just don’t know.
What do you guys think?