A friend of mine recently asked me to recommend a good book for his children that would, in his words: “make them love reading.”
I responded that if his children, who are already well into their teens, do not yet appreciate the inexhaustible treasure that is the written word, then it is probably too late for them.
“Set your sights a bit lower,” I said to him.
“If you can bring them to a point where they can at least see a practical value in developing good reading habits, such as for college or career advancement, you will have won a great victory.”
I could tell he was disappointed and I did not intend to utterly discourage him, but, as I have worked and dwelt within the realms of public/private education and academia (as well as a lifelong student of humanity), it is my own experience that a person possesses an appreciation or discipline for reading in the same way that some are able to maintain a certain physical fitness through the ebb and flow of life.
That is, a person reads well and reads often because they like to read. A person reads well and reads often because they like what reading brings to them.
My friend has always provided his children with an adequate bookshelf, rife with such classics as Tom Sawyer and The Hobbitt, but I think it has acted more as a handsome showpiece in a living room area that is dominated by a 50-inch plasma screen television and a vast array of video gaming systems.
Fine leather-bound books with gold embossed letters, gathering dust above a great flickering maw. The message he has sent to his children is resounding.
I do not mean to throw my friend “under the bus” (in the parlance of our times) and I am writing on this issue with his sanction, but I have felt an increasing concern over just how television-drenched the world has become in the paltry few decades that I have been alive.
Now do not misunderstand me, I enjoy watching a good football game or movie with the high-def sparkling in lifelike resonance and the sound roaring out of the Dolby Surround at enough of a volume to set off the neighbor’s car alarm.
I also enjoy a triple-banana split, but that does not mean I am going to eat one for every meal.
Reading is an endeavor that engages the mind and encourages critical thought, whereas television is more often a passive undertaking than not.
To read, one must utilize aspects of imagination and abstract thought that are typically run roughshod over during the typical 30-minute slice of prepackaged entertainment that comes yammering forth from the idle minds of Hollywood and Madison Avenue.
At this point, I could probably reel off a long list of statistics that back my position, citing the downward trajectory in the cultural attention-spans, combined with the rise hyper-kinetic emotional disorders, but there’s a good chance I’ve already lost the major portion of my target audience.
English poet and philosopher James Allen wrote: “A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind.”
Do yourself a favor: come down off the grid for a little while and plug yourself into a good book. There have been plenty of them published over the last 500 years or so.
The first step in destroying a culture is not in the burning of books, but when people no longer treasure the written word.