by Adrian Newell, Warwick's Book Buyer
Recently, a local school district announced a major change in their school curriculum - the removal of classic literature as required reading because "classics," according to this district, have been deemed to be irrelevant. School curriculum will instead focus on math and sciences. Such a change in emphasis will most likely result in a negative effect rather than a positive one as reading comprehension has been proven to improve test scores as well as lay a good foundation for academic achievement in college.
This announcement triggered a heated discussion in my office regarding the negative side effects/fallout that such a shortsighted approach will produce…this took me down a mental “rabbit hole”, which brings me to the point of this, my first ever blog entry...and, no, the irony is not lost on me!
Sven Birkerts in a recent WSJ article) agree can the end be far off?
It is not - unless book lovers unite to stem the tide of this potentially self-fulfilling prophecy. As long as we stand by, fail to speak out and remind/educate consumers as to what we stand to lose, we may witness a loss that will be devastating to the cultural and intellectual fabric of our society.
I grew up without a TV or phone. My parents were depression era babies and quite frugal in their approach to consumerism but books were always an important constant in our lives. We went to the library every week for a new batch of reading materials. They also took the time to read aloud to us daily. A favorite memory (and only good one!) from school was my 6th grade teacher who read The Hobbit aloud to us every day. The only effective way to get everyone to behave was the threat of not reading if someone misbehaved. This only happened once, after which the severe peer disapproval leveled at the miscreants was enough to keep everyone in line.
I credit my lifelong reading habits and exposure to the ideas discovered on the pages of books as my truest and best education.
At this point I feel the need to declare that I am not a Luddite...well perhaps a wee bit...I love the ease that certain technology has brought to everyday life. However, I view technology as a means to an end, not the end itself. I own an iPod, an iPhone, a computer, but at no point will these devices ever replace the satisfaction and joy of holding and reading a physical book. When I look at the books on my bookshelves I can clearly recall many happy moments spent reading as well as what was going on in my life at the time of reading specific books. They are a visual history of my life and looking at them evokes memories of people, places, and experiences that would be lost if my library consisted of only books downloaded to an e-reader.
Additionally, the literary life has put me in contact with many wonderful people who have enriched my life. Technology can be good, but also serves as a barrier to truly connecting with people. We are losing the art of conversation, letter writing, journal keeping etc...always connected but never truly connecting at more than a superficial level. Texting, tweeting, and emailing cannot adequately replace face-to-face conversation where you can look the person in the eye and watch their facial expressions mirror their thoughts and emotions. Nuance is lost in cyberspace and emoticons are a poor substitute for the real thing.
Recently I gave a shout out to It’s a Book by Lane Smith as my favorite book of the year. Why, you might ask, would I pick a children’s book above all the other deserving, finely written books of the past year?! Here’s why - he succinctly captures, with few words and charming illustrations, the current struggle between technology and the printed word. This is a book every book lover should read and share with others. (Check out his interview with the Wall Street Journal.)
So... my challenge to you is this. Just as we’ve seen a burgeoning “slow food” movement address the encroachment that fast food, processed food etc. has had on the culinary arts, I’d like to propose a “slow books” movement to encourage book lovers to go out and remind those around us of the importance and necessity of physical books. This is my call to arms and revolution, if necessary, to preserve something precious and vital to our culture.
Be retro, take a vacation from technology and unplug for a day...and use that day to reconnect with friends, explore the outdoors, or read a book. Most of all, speak out about this issue. Let’s not stand by doing nothing until it’s too late.
Be vocal, be proactive!
So spread the word, spread the love and give someone you care about a physical book this holiday season. It’s still the best entertainment value out there and time spent reading is never wasted!
Check out the following links to articles of interest on this topic.