I’m a little concerned about an apparent trend in America. A recent Pew Research Center survey stated that book reading by adults has declined 6% from 2011, and that adults reading novels fell 14% in the same period. I find this troubling, not only as an author of books but also from a fundamental view of the importance of reading.
I realize I’m not an average reader. I read for research, information, and pleasure across genres and subject matter. I’ve studied literature and how to write it, largely from studying at college and reading books on the topic. At any given time I have a lot of books around me, flagged and marked up with highlighters and pencil.
What concerns me about the idea that fewer adults are reading is that the written word is how we share our thoughts and ideas for others to consume. To ponder and think about for as long as it takes for the information to make sense. That may be instantaneous or it may take several minutes, or we may have to return to the page again after we read something elsewhere that sheds light on the matter. I do that frequently, by the way!
In our current fast-paced, instant gratification culture we have many ways to access the information we seek. Not all are created equal in my opinion. I understand that there are many how-to videos on YouTube, for instance. I have watched a few when I needed to know how one of my characters would have performed a certain task. The problem for me is that I live in the country and I can’t stream or download a lot of videos because we’re on a satellite internet system and we’d be put in bandwidth abuse jail if we tried. The same thing applies to any kind of streaming on my TV for the same reason. Thus books are very important to me.
I also think reading a book strengthens our attention span muscle. When we only receive our information in sound bite length snippets, we don’t, and actually can’t, fully understand the whys and wherefores of the event making the news. Maybe at times we don’t really care about the backstory of the accident or the rise to fame of some celebrity. But we might if we knew more about how and why those things came to pass.
You all know that I write stories that include American history elements, whether I’m writing contemporary paranormal romance or historical women’s fiction. But you may not know that I hated taking history classes in school because they were taught using only the facts: names, places, dates. The textbooks rarely expounded on the lives of the people who were not fighting in the wars or running the government. Which gave me the impression that everything must have ground to halt except for the battle or the coup, etc.
But that’s not true at all! That’s what I’m trying to show in my historical fiction (romance or women’s fiction) and even in my paranormal romances – that people continued to live and love, get married, have babies, mourn the death of a loved one who died from malaria or scarlet fever, etc. In fact, it was through reading historical romance and fiction that I fell in love with history and the influence on our present way of life that historical events have made.
For example, the torturous and rough paths/roads of the 18th century for wheeled vehicles to travel led to better and smoother roads by the early 19th century. The need to reduce the time and expense of moving products to markets led to canals being built and then the railroads. The trip from Mount Vernon in Virginia to Philadelphia took George Washington almost 2 weeks to make in bad weather on even worse roads. The trip today when I drove it last year was only about 2.5 hours.
Story is very important to our survival, too. Stories teach us. Through morals in some. Through example in others. What to do, what not to do, and the repercussions of each so if we’re ever in a similar situation we know what options we have. Nonfiction as well as fiction work to provide the story of other’s experience.
So to me reading is truly fundamental. We read all the time and all the place. Like instruction manuals, nutrition labels, recipes, newspapers and magazines, blogs like this one, news online from a variety of sources, maps, road signs and more. We need to know how to interpret what we’re reading, how to understand the story being told to us and what it means to us as individuals and as a society. Reading supports our education and our day to day lives.
That’s my thoughts. What are yours? Do you agree? Disagree?
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