Dost Thou Read?

Not even half of Americans  read books/literature anymore, according to a study done by the National Endowment of the Arts.  Reading books has been on the decrease –we’d rather have our minds numbed with CGI movies like Avatar, our X-Box 360, and sit-coms than delve into the riches of Plato’s Republic or C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces or Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

As an American citizen, I find this a very disturbing and embarrassing trend. The United States is a nation built on the high intellectual rigor of Western civilization and our high value on education. Literacy is an indispensible part of this foundation. No one can be called “educated” in the furthest sense who is not an avid reader. All of the wisdom of the ages (and the lessons from the folly) are contained in the written word. When we stop reading we lose something.

I say this despite a major paradigm shift I’ve had recently on the importance of the spoken word. Through training with “Simply The Story,” I learned about storytelling and how powerful this is. My beloved Bible is mostly narrative, written for the benefit ancient oral (and mostly illiterate) cultures. It was memorized, told, and retold regularly, rather than read silently.  Fast-forwarding to today, the vast majority of people in the world are either functionally illiterate or do not learn by primarily written methods. This does not make them inferior human beings. We must simply use oral and pictorial methods if we are to be complete communicators who reach everyone.

That said, reading is still important. In an ideal world, everyone should be able to read. This is because while oral communication is a good and valid form of communication, reading/writing is equally as valid and fills in what oral communication misses. This is the mark of an educated person.

My point, if not clear so far, is: We need to read! Read old books and new books, fiction and non-fiction, secular and spiritual, books everyone is reading and books no one is reading,** books you agree with and books you disagree with, taking the time to reflect on what you’re reading. If you know how to read you are an incredibly privileged person already. Don’t waste it. Don’t miss the immense value of interacting with the written word. You won’t regret it.

**Reading what I call “wayside books” is a really excellent idea. As history moves along and culture changes there are some very, very good books fall that by the wayside – along with their wisdom. The book I’m reading that fits into this category is the 19th century book by A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve. I wish more Christians would read this book. It is an excellent insight into the mind of Christ. In my opinion, it’s more powerfully written than Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, the more popular classic on Jesus and discipleship. Dear Reader, read old books!

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4 comments

  1. kimberlyklein

    It does my heart good to discover fellow book enthusiasts out there (my reading habits might best be described as “voracious”). And while I understand the convenience of digital book formats, to me, there is nothing quite like holding a book in your hands–turning the pages, smelling the paper and having the freedom to underline and write in the margins to your heart’s content. [big sigh] I love it. 🙂

    On the flip side, the extent of my library does make moving a more interesting process…

  2. PB

    Yes, digital books are convenient and *easier* to move! They’re the only ones I can get right now, since there aren’t any good English-language books to buy here. 😦 But when I’m able again, I want to start buying from bookstores, to help keep the tradition alive in the world of online book ordering and kindles.

    Man, I like to mark up my books too! I love to just hold an actual book, as readers have been doing for centuries. And besides, it’s a much more fitting scene to sit in a idyllic coffee shop or front porch with a book than a flat digital reader!

  3. Susan

    I love the photo of the young man reading. Is it in the public domain? Or can you tell me how I can obtain it? I would like to use it for a library project. Of course, I heartily agree that everyone needs to read!

    • PB

      Hi Susan,
      Thanks for commenting.
      I’m sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I’m inactive on this blog, so I haven’t checked it much. You know, I don’t recall where I got that picture from – it’s been a few years. It could have been taken from the internet, or possibly from some files I had from teaching. Unfortunately I was not aware of copyright as much at that time, so I’m not sure if it’s public domain or not. I did a Google Image search just now and found a file page here, from the Waterloo Public Library. http://www.wpl.ca/?attachment_id=6426 Maybe you can contact them. Here’s their website http://www.wpl.ca/
      Hope this helps

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