Janet Sheridan: Reading is alive and well
As a holiday that emphasizes thankfulness gives way to another that encourages the giving of gifts, I think about my gratitude for two gifts given to me by my teachers and my parents: the ability to read and the love of books. I can’t imagine life without them.
Thus, I’m bothered by decades of research that documents the decline of bookstores, the decreasing number of library users, and the growing percentage of young people who prefer the quick, social gratification of technology to the time-consuming, solitary task of reading for pleasure.
But, I disagree with those who think the waning interest in reading means we’re all going to hell in a hand basket, and I don’t try to bring others to enlightenment and a better life by convincing them to share my passion for books. Reading as a hobby doesn’t guarantee a happy and fulfilled life any more than adult coloring books, bungee jumping, or soap carving do.
My husband, who regularly plays low-stakes poker with friends, doesn’t tell me I should take up poker, so I’d have a greater appreciation for the value of quarters and a well-executed bluff. In return, I resist telling him, “It’s too bad you don’t read novels. You’ll never know the pleasure of forgetting to cook dinner because you’re completely engrossed in a great story.”
Still, for selfish reasons, I wish more people shared my love of books, bookstores, and libraries. An increased interest in reading would motivate authors to continue writing books, publishers to continue printing them, bookstores to continue selling them, and libraries to continue lending them, thus guaranteeing the continuation of my ability to pursue a passion I’ve enjoyed since I first read, “Oh, see Jane. See Jane run. Funny, funny Jane.”
Recently, research indicating literature will not fade into oblivion like the Edsel, gives me hope. In 2016, the Pew Research Center reported that, in the past 12 months, 74 percent of Americans had read at least one book for pleasure. Obviously, we are not a nation of bookworms, but over the span of one year, 239,760,000 Americans read at least one book, surely enough to keep authors writing, presses running, and sellers selling.
Pew’s research counted audio and electronic books along with print books. I grew up reading books printed on paper and thought that was the way reading should be done. Then, years ago, driving long distances to work with scattered school districts, I adopted audio books. Sometimes, I arrived home well after dark but felt compelled to drive around the block to finish an exciting passage in the book I was listening to. A few times, I went around twice, hoping Joel wouldn’t see me and fear I’d forgotten where I live.
I also used to sniff in a hoity-toity fashion at electronic readers, thinking folks who chose to read a Kindle rather than a real book would undoubtedly prefer to remain in an airline’s economy section when offered a free upgrade to first class. Then, I explored a friend’s Kindle and realized it held more books than I could stuff in my carry-on, came equipped with its own light, featured print that could be made larger or smaller, and was small enough to carry in a purse and hold in one hand — important qualities for anyone who blows out more than 50 candles on their birthday cake.
Though I had to learn not to judge others for using audio books and e-readers, I’ve never questioned what others read. Dad taught me long ago to never judge a book by its cover when he convinced me to read a Louis L’Amour western; I then read everything the man wrote.
So, when I became aware of it, I decided to pay no attention to the advice of the American journalist P.J. O’Rourke, who famously advised his readers to “Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.”
I hope my readers will ignore his words, as well.
Janet Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at auntbeulah.com the first and 15th of every month.