I’ve been doing a lot less talking lately and a lot more listening. I recently heard a friend of mine, Akil, remark that he was sitting down to read a real book because he wasn’t sure that his young sons knew he was reading (rather than playing Angry Birds or watching movies) on his iPad. I thought this was brilliant–but also an indicator of what is likely a big problem I hadn’t thought about. Do children wonder if all those grownups on the beach are reading books or watching television?
This got me thinking: how much has the identifiable/observable reading of books decreased? Even if the exact same number is actually being read, do we knowingly witness reading like we used to? We love to talk about how more books are being published than ever before, but are kids seeing us read them? Parents, is this on your radar?
If you’re over a certain age, you likely have bookshelves filled with books. Your friends probably do, too. I don’t know about you, but I love to check out my friends’ shelves, see what they’re reading, occasionally borrow a copy of this or that, and, at the very least, chat about what we’ve read. Have you ever picked up someone else’s eReader and scrolled through her library?
I haven’t. To do so would feel… invasive, like digging through someone’s Documents folder.
Maybe I’m not as serious a reader as I’d like to imagine, but I have found that, for me, out of sight often equals out of mind on this front. I don’t have shelf space here at the cottage and I’ve found that one of the consequences of that is that I have to remind myself that if I pick up my iPad or Kindle I can read a book. I have dozens of books I bought last year, several of which I’d completely forgotten about. It seems I lump those eReading devices in as extensions of my other computers and phone and don’t think of them, instead, as books.
Since reading is as much a cultural value and catalyst for dialogue—across the scale of cocktail conversation to major anthropological inquiry—as it is a pleasurable pastime, how do we maintain it’s presence or relevance when the physical object that largely propels it is disappearing? We’re losing the biggest prompt to reading: the book.