The Washington Post released a story on May 12 that made me make my sad face, to say the least. You can read the article for yourself, but it essentially summarizes a report from Common Sense Media that found a dramatic decrease in the number of young people who are reading for pleasure. I know I’m preaching to the proverbial choir here, since the blogosphere is full of literary types, but this breaks my heart and I have to say it somewhere.
Even as a child, books were my refuge, some of my best teachers, and constant friends. They encouraged my creativity, and provided insight into places/times/cultures I had never encountered in person. We all know that books can serve a great purpose as both educators and entertainers. What we don’t always think about is the effect they have on our personal development. Reading, quite simply, facilitates compassion. It helps us embrace diversity, introducing us to a variety of people and situations from the comfort of our own favorite comfy chairs. And we live in a world that is increasingly in need of compassion.
That’s what bothers me most about these stats: I don’t want to see the percentage of understanding people drop lower and lower with every flip of the calendar. I don’t want younger generations to lose an entire channel of information, a direct line into the inner workings of another individual’s mind. I don’t want kids to grow into adults who don’t know any better.
That said, I also know a lot (note: a LOT) of adults who don’t read. They think they don’t like books, that all avid readers are traditionally “bookish.” Personally, I’m a firm believer that everyone does like to read–they may have just not met the right book yet. (Literary matchmaking is my favorite, by the way.) These adults usually hated the required reading list when they were in school, didn’t do any reading at home, and came to the conclusion that all books were evil, scholastic heathens, sent to ruin their GPAs. When they graduated, they tossed literature aside to concentrate on more “productive” pursuits. Or, you know, to watch TV or something.
So here’s my request, of everyone, because I want our collective sense of compassion to grow in the coming years–because we can’t afford to see it shrink:
Read a book.
If you love to read, read something new. Immerse yourself in the story, or the poem, or the biography. Read whatever makes you happy, makes you think, makes you better. Talk about what you read, if you feel excited about it. Recommend the book to a friend.
If you’re sure you hate reading, hear me out. Please, please, just give it one more try. Please. Find a reader, someone you trust, and ask them for a recommendation. Visit a library. Listen to an audiobook during your commute. Read something you’ll enjoy. Don’t put pressure on yourself, or worry about the number of pages or how long it takes you to reach the end. A book is not about its ending. Even if you end up hating it, try to understand why. If you don’t hate it, try to understand why.
And if you have kids, help them find their books. Mine were Dr. Seuss titles and Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter stories. I read through my elementary library’s inventory of Ramona books, and shortly thereafter, The Saddle Club and The Babysitters Club series (clubs were a big thing for a while). Read bedtime stories. Give books as birthday presents. Find a book that makes your child smile, and then find more books like that. They’ll branch out on their own, eventually. When kids want to talk about what they read, talk with them. Listen to them. Don’t rush them. Don’t force it too much. Let them catch you reading.
Let’s all be more compassionate. Engage with characters. Lose ourselves in stories, then find ourselves in them. We must allow ourselves to feel something beyond our own experience.
You can help me make my happy face, and I’ll be very grateful.