We live in an age of accessibility, of abundance, of excess. In some cases, information flows more freely than water (especially in Flint, Michigan). By gleaning knowledge from a conglomeration of sources – websites, blog posts, Yahoo Answers – we turn the obscure into the viral, the well-known into the cliche. In the face of such a prevalent competition, it’s no wonder that one of the American child’s greatest past-times, reading, has fallen into the depths of neglect and disarray.
Before the internet, and even during the early days of the internet, reading was the hobby for all ages. Young or old, there was always something for everyone. It was a time when books had value not as decorative set pieces on a display bookshelf at Ikea, but as instruments of learning and growth. But that time has come and gone.
Nowadays, toddlers are inseparable from their talking electronic devices, the cell phone has found a seat at the dinner table, and access to the internet is under heavy consideration as a fundamental human right. Paperback books, once the gold standard of entertainment, has come to be viewed by many as a relic of the past, and, from its ashes, streaming media has risen and taken to the cloud. The latter provides a greater selection of accessible choices, is far more convenient on the go, and, perhaps most importantly of all, is totally mindless. Start a series on Netflix, and, whether you’re engaged or not, time can just pass you by. Reading, on the other hand, requires a modicum of effort.
The elephant in the room would is “why?” Why spend countless hours of precious brainpower on reading a Room when you can just visit the movie theater and see the its movie adaptation in approximately 119 minutes? Why struggle through a novel containing a web of lies and layers of intrigue when you can just watch a show like How to Get Away with Murder and get it all in an easily digestible, serial form? Why read?
Because books where all ideas are born. Unlike the movies, which are dated by the decade (although the rare exception exists), books are timeless vehicles of ingenuity and creativity. There’s a reason why so many movies in recent years, from The Hunger Games to The Revenant, originate from textual source material. Books are safe bets for fresh concepts, awe-inspiring visuals, innovative takes on life.
But if you’re not a big fan of the movies like I am, books have additions merits, too. For one, they can greatly improve your command of language. In one of my earlier posts, I espoused the wonders of the APEL, praising how the class taught me to appreciate how an author effectively uses rhetorical techniques to convey a main idea. Taking tips from style guides – although White and Strunk’s The Elements of Style is indispensable – can only take one so far, however. The best way to improve your own writing is to read another’s works. Sure, that blog post may show off some cool ways to repurpose an Ikea spice rack. That Yahoo Answer thread may show the step-by-step solution to an nigh unsolvable physics problem. That Youtube channel’s video explaining the European debt crisis in a simple animation may solve all your European debt crisis needs. But in no way can any one of those things, or even a combination of all three, serve as a catalyst for further literary improvement. But reading can. Noticing how an author uses sentence structure, tone, different kinds of diction is the first step to becoming a better writer yourself.
So maybe your writing is in no dire need of inspiration (although everyone can use a bit of a boost). Maybe the prospect of the wondrous world that lay inside each and every book just doesn’t appeal to you. Or maybe reading just isn’t the your thing. After all, sometimes it feels like the internet can do anything and everything you ask it to, from order a pizza to give drum lessons for beginners. But if you ever find yourself looking for something to do, pick up a good book or two. Maybe you’ll find something inside that tickles your fancy. Maybe even a love for literature.