Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Why do(n't) we read?

The New York Times had an interesting article on November 25 entitled, "A Good Mystery: Why We Read." I found the title rather provocative. I thought it was obvious why we read: to enter into someone else's imagination, to learn something new, but most of all, for fun---for the pure pleasure of leaving our world for a spell and becoming engrossed in a world of the author's fashioning. (I'm talking about recreational reading, not reading for work. God knows I do enough of that for my dissertation!)

But as the author, Motoko Rich, points out, the NEA recently released a study that found that Americans are reading less for fun these days. And I have to wonder, with so many wonderful books out there, and so many literary professionals and organizations extolling the wonders of reading in blogs, websites, and through awards programs (see my friend Susan's post on the Caldecott Honor awards), why are so many young people disinterested in reading?

The rise of video games and the Internet has often been fingered as the culprit, and I'm sure that these new technologies are partly to blame. But for each generation (at least beginning in the 20th century) there has always been a new technology to tempt our attentions; radio, film and the television have competed for our time long before the XBox was invented.

One recent trend that I have noticed among other parents with young children is the desire to schedule their children in structured activities. There are Mommy and Me music classes, Mommy and Me yoga classes, Strollercize fitness classes, and of course the ubiquitous Gymboree classes. I know a mother who started her son in Gymboree classes at three months of age. Now that she is back to work, she has her nanny take him to his classes. I'm not judging her (or any mom) for signing up for such classes; I think that they are often as much, if not more, for the mother's benefit (to meet other moms and get out of the house). Heck, if I had the money I would probably sign up for one, too. But with all this structured activity, how much time is left for unstructured activities, like drawing, make believe...or reading?

One bright light in all of this are the story time programs offered at my local library. My library is tiny. I mean, really tiny---most of what I want to check out has to be ordered from other branches because the circulating collection at my library is so small. But while it may lack a large collection, it does have something that is far more important: a really enthusiastic children's librarian. This librarian has started free story time programs for toddlers as well as babies (I believe the only one of its kind in the county), and he allows anyone to attend (other municipalities in the area limit attendance to residents of that particular town). These programs are so popular that people come from the neighboring county just to attend! What a wonderful way to get moms/dads/caregivers and their charges into the library and get them excited about reading. It's a shame that the other libraries in the county don't follow my library's lead and open up their programs to whomever wants to attend. It's a great first step to creating lifelong readers.

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