A few years ago, I was chatting with a friend who said she had paid a carpenter to come to her house to build bookcases. The guy looked at her and said, “Are people still reading books?”
It is a good question. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that the people in America in 2020 read less than twelve minutes a day. That we as Americans are reading less than ever is not only sad, but a threat to democracy as Senator Ben Sasse laments in his book, The Vanishing American Adult:Our Coming-of-Age Crisis – and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance. If we aren’t reading newspapers and books critically, then we become complacent and believe whatever comes across the media. Senator Sasse argues that America was built on reading print newspapers and books in order to educate us. Without reading , he is worried America’s citizen’s interest in democracy will slide.
The perception may be that we, as a culture, are not readers anymore, but you and your family can still enjoy the endless pleasures and many benefits of reading. That is the trick to being awake on the importance of reading-–saying yes to the commitment it takes, when other people aren’t even aware of how important being a good reader is. It is like being oblivious to how critical having family dinner together. Both take effort and commitment to make them happen, with a cascade of benefits.
The reason being a reader is critical is that it can affect a person’s whole future–how well one does in school, what test scores are obtained, and conversely–future levels of income. Being a prolific reader can also help us be a learner for life, meaning we stay open minded and fluid in our thinking. Reading can improve our empathy for people, as we read about different and difficult lives. Yes, it is a bit of work to go to the library and read to our children. It will seem like too much trouble. We will be rewarded richly as our children start seeing how wonderful books are to read, as they get excited about their bedtime story and beg for one more chapter, please! Once we get our children hooked, they become much more maintenance free. They are learning how to entertain themselves without an electronic device in their hands. Senator Sasse continues:
“Becoming truly literate is a choice. Reading done well is not a passive activity like sitting in front of a screen. It requires a degree of attention, engagement, and active questioning of which most of our children currently have a deficit. The core question is not if you hold in your hand an old-fashioned book or a new electronic book, but rather that even if you read from a screen, you develop the self-discipline to ignore the temptation to check email or scores or social media every few minutes. Reading done well requires a forward leaning brain. Our culture’s ever-present distractions–the obsessive appeals to immediacy (What news am I missing?)–conspire to blunt out curiosity and distract us from sustained thought. The relentless pull of the digital world with its demands that our kids submit to the shiny and the immediate, threatens to make them not just less literate but also more like subjects than citizens. At our house we challenge ourselves to read for sixty minutes without looking at smartphones, televisions or computers.”
Can we do what Senator Sasse does at his house? Can we and our children develop the discipline to read for an hour a day, without distractions? When your child becomes a reader, they become more interested and interesting, and that precious character trait, curiosity, is being nourished. As readers, they are building a vast array of skills that will help them for the rest of their lives.
Here is a list of the 100 classic books for children. Here is a classic list for adults. I gave my daughter the book, The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan, for her 29th birthday. She read it within a few weeks and texted back:
“I finished The Last Green Valley– (three crying emojis)
I’m besides myself.
Everyone should read this book!
Such drastically different lives, especially for their boys.”
My husband replied in the text:
Reading has changed the lives of me and my family!