Monday, November 26, 2007
The Tenacity and Captivating Power of Books
There are hundreds of reasons not to pick up a book for recreational reading. Despite distractions like YouTube, America's Next Top Model and even lowly RedLion Reports, we keep on buying and reading books. In last Sunday's New York Times Week in Review, Motoko Rich wrote about why we keep on reading books. The National Endowment for the Arts recently noted that Americans are reading less. The decline is greatest among teenagers and young adults. At the same time, reading scores among those who do read are dropping, and employers complain that workers lack basic reading comprehension skills. In a competitive market for leisure activity, as seductive alternatives to reading expand, reading loses ground. The good news, amazing really, is that readers persist in reading. Book sales are growing slightly. Book Industry Study Group, a publishing trade association, reports that the book trade sold 3.1 billion books last year, up 0.5 percent from last year. Compare Apple's investment in marketing the IPod and its supporting services, accessories and progeny with the marketing budgets of book publishers. Goliath has not succeeded in snuffing David.
In the New York Times story, Rich wonders why some people turn to reading and stay with it. A leading theory is that the right book at the right time is catalytic -- sets off a chain reaction of lifelong reading. Sherman Alexie won the National Book Award for young people's literature a few weeks ago for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. In his acceptance remarks, he thanked Ezra Jack Keats for the picture book, The Snowy Day. The main character, Alexie noted, "resembled me physically and resembled me spiritually, in all his gorgeous loneliness and splendid isolation." Azar Nafisi, writer of Reading Lolita in Tehran thought that people read for the "excitement of trying to discover that unknown world." Some books are like potato chips, the first one is delicious and you can't stop after just one. For some, the chip of choice is Harry Potter or the Hobbit. For me, it was Nancy Drew, the Brontes and Jane Austen.
What about you? Why do you read? What book or books got you started?