Somewhere between the novel "David Copperfield" and the magician David Copperfield, Americans went from seeing reading as a joy to seeing it as a chore. At least that appears to be the finding in a new study from the National Endowment for the Arts. Poet Dana Gioia, who chairs the NEA, said the culture has become "almost entirely commercial and novelty-driven."
The study highlights the obvious. People especially young people have become so busy with school, work, family and the explosion of entertainment that recreational reading is fading. In 2005, 65 percent of college freshmen said they read little or nothing for pleasure. Gioia calls such statistics "probably the single most important social issue in the United States."
The obvious fallout is when the life of the mind is curbed, quality of life in general is diminished. In an information age, often young people are taught to read for information when, in fact, the wonder of reading involves so much more. Reading enhances vocabulary and personal expression, it stimulates the imagination, shows the beauty and musicality of language and offers a portal into the psychology, history in short, the worlds of other human beings.
Reading not only expands the mind, it expands our ability to appreciate and understand. It enhances us in ways that video games and even movies can't.
We urge parents to read to their children, then to listen as they read. Discuss what is read. Help young people see things from a variety of angles and with a sense of context.
Time was when "curling up with a good book" was a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Today, that thought strikes fear in the hearts of the young. They have developed the notion that there are people who "do" and people who "read." And they opt for the former. The sad thing is those in the latter group often develop richer more meaningful lives.
It's up to parents, teachers, librarians, writers, journalists and others to showcase the virtues of recreational reading. To show as Lady Montague put it that "No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure more lasting."