Try to remember the last book you read that wasn't required by a class. And no, Buzzfeed, Reddit, and that clickbait article about the man whose new health supplement has left doctors furious just don't count. When did you last read a book simply because you wanted to?
If you're struggling to remember, then you're not alone.
According to the Pew Research Center, approximately one in four Americans said they had not read a book over the past year.
In all honesty, this fact only makes sense, since there would seem to be no reason to read a book when there are so many other options that immediately grab your attention, like movies, video games, and your 5th run-through of "The Office" (I don't blame you for that one since that show is better than most books).
As much as I wish I could just go along with the trend and fully engage myself in modern media, I feel conflicted seeing books sit awkwardly in the corner like a grandpa at this party of forms of entertainment. For it seems to me that what we gain in instant gratification and pleasure from digital media is no replacement for what we lose in artistic value and creativity from books.
I remember the feeling from popping open a nice chapter book in second grade, eager to read it and enjoy the story so much I would almost immediately flip back to start again from page one. It's not like there wasn't anything to distract me either; it was hard to keep my eyes away from the colorful programs that PBS put up every time right after I got back from school. But reading at the time had this enchantment to it, this element of tangible realness and thought put into it that was hard to feel when watching Caillou whine to his parents.
Though this was during my childhood, I still find the principles of this example to hold up - words on a page have a mystical power to them that video simply cannot capture, perhaps because it's the reader's imagination that develops the story into a convincing world whereas videos create the story for the viewer, making them limited, albeit attractive piece of entertainment. It was easy to get lost in the "Percy Jackson" novels as a teenager, but you couldn't get lost in even the best Pixar movie for hours.
Perhaps that's one of the main reasons so many adults struggle to crack open something off their bookshelf when kids just do it without thinking; since we value our time more, we prefer to be more efficient with it, so a movie or a tv show is less of a commitment than sinking deep into a story for hours.
This is understandable, but that seems to me like more of a strength than a weakness of books. Authors spend most of their time focusing exclusively on developing characters, dialogue, and narratives, whereas film has to consider all of those elements in addition to visuals, audio, marketing, and studio bureaucracy. As a result, books are more rewarding than most movies as the experience they provide are thought out and effective, eliciting strong emotional responses that stick with you.
I realize the irony of my point considering I'm writing about the value of print text on a digital keyboard to be published online, about as far away from books as can be done. At times I wonder if I'm just an old-fashioned, nostalgic geezer who can't accept that the written word is an antiquated art form of the past. But the blockbuster movies, the engaging television programs, and most of the entertainment we consume today would be far less sophisticated if they hadn't taken a page out of the novels that inspired them.
To anyone who's had the energy to make it this far, please, book it over to a library and pick up that book you heard about from a friend. If the commitment is an issue, then consider the numerous short story collections with tales that are no less interesting than a book and require less of an investment. You have my word.