This past semester, I was in one of my favorite English classes that I've ever taken. This class was a survey course, ENGL 3820, History of English Literature: 18th Century to Present. It was on the last day of this class that I loved so much that one of the professors shared a statistic that shocked me.
According to a study he read recently, at the rate it is currently declining, pleasure reading in America will have all but disappeared by the 2050s.
I was honestly stunned when I heard it. How could that many people stop reading so quickly? How could so few people be reading for pleasure already that we're even this close to it becoming extinct?
I don't have an answer to my question, but I can say that we need to turn this statistic around. For the love of reading, for the love of art, we need to get more people picking up a book because they genuinely want to, not because someone assigned it to them. I don't have answers, just a real passion for the written word and its power.
For me, books have been friends in lonely times, adventures when I feel stuck, a comfortable home when I'm somewhere unfamiliar or uncomfortable. Books have the power to make us feel things, the power to stretch our imaginations and broaden our horizons all from your favorite little reading spot.
In one of the hardest times of my life, books were more of a solace than I ever realized they could be. The comfortable weight of a book between my hands is one that I will always love. The smell of paper, ink, and coffee is one that will forever make me stop and just think to myself "ahhhhh."
This is why I simply cannot understand how reading for pleasure, the genuine love for reading, could possible die out. How can people suddenly not care that entire worlds are waiting for them to discover? How could someone not be interested in solving a murder mystery, exploring a haunted house, traveling the world, recovering from emotional trauma, or even pure fantasy? The more I try to wrap my head around the concept, the more confused I become. With the whole wide world of books out there, how can there not be at least one that suits everyone?
Is it a culture problem? Are we too overstimulated by technology? Is it because there aren't as many characters on TV shows that love to read anymore? Is it because people are lazy? Or can they just not find what suits them? Maybe we could fix the issue by encouraging kids to read like we encourage them to go out for sports. Maybe better funding to libraries is the answer. Maybe we all just need to learn to take more intentional time to read. To be honest, I have no idea.
The two professors left us by saying that they were sending us out as readers to help change that statistic, to prove it wrong. I'm not saying that everyone needs to become a big reader, but I am saying that we need to protect reading as an institution, as an art form, as a free expression of imaginative thought. It might sound like a little issue, but, for me at least, it's got big meaning and I can't stand to see it disappear.