Posted on

Reading key to the main door


Reading key to the main door

Social Share

ONE CANNOT HELP but sympathise with the so-called millennials: every minute of their day their attention is pulled and tugged in all directions and there is never enough time to devote to the rewarding exercise of reading books.

They have to cope with what David Ulin calls the encroachment of the buzz; the sense that there is always something out there that merits their attention, when in fact it’s mostly just a series of disconnected riffs, quick takes and fragments, that add up to the anxiety of the age.

Reading, especially in this age of distraction, takes some effort. The term “the love of reading” is not an empty phrase. You must love it to do it. It’s a discovery you make. You must see it as nutrition in the same way you accept that the physical body needs protein, carbohydrates and minerals to grow and to stay healthy.

Not every book is a page-turner: sometimes you have to persist and plod along. To this end I recommend Mortimer Adler’s 1940 classic How To Read A Book.

What reading teaches, first and foremost, is how to sit still for long periods and confront time head-on. We are becoming a culture unable to concentrate, to pursue a line of thought or tolerate a conflicting point of view.

Our attention is chopped into shorter and shorter intervals and that can’t be good for thinking deeper thoughts. After all, Twitter allows you only 140 characters – not 140 words – to express your thought. Is that why Donald Trump is so incoherent; having to go back and clarify something, or blaming the media for misinterpreting him?

The British philosopher A.C. Grayling says: “To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.”

A few months ago I attended yet another book launch. I say “yet another” because it continues to amaze me that in this arid intellectual desert, people continue to publish books. It clearly cannot be in pursuit of financial reward.

I complimented the author for her temerity in joining a steadily growing number of Barbadian writers brave enough to throw several thousand dollars towards the printing and distribution of books in a society with so few readers.

Out of style

 These days all types of inducements have to be thought up to introduce our young people to collide with the joys of reading. It is not easy; there are so many dazzling things vying for their attention. Pokemon Go, perhaps, one of the latest.

Reading has become a bore to most Barbadians born since 1964 – the year television came to Barbados. They do or did it at school and university because it was on the curriculum, but few have tasted the joys of reading. Few have read a book from cover to cover since graduation.

Serious reading is going out of style, partly because it is not necessary to read anything beyond the literature of one’s occupation in order to make a decent living. The increasing specialisation of the workplace has decreased the demand for the general knowledge that arises from regular reading of books.

Even reading purely for instruction, as opposed to doing so to make oneself a well-rounded person, is no longer as important as it used to be. The computer has reduced people’s dependence on reference books by making it possible to access information previously available only in printed form.

I continue to argue that reading is directly connected to writing, and that it is necessary to be able to write properly to do many jobs effectively. I will even take it further and posit that reading and writing clearly are directly related to thinking, as distinct from mere feeling.

Gladstone Holder took that view to his grave. He used to say: “Reading will help you to develop in ways you can’t imagine. It will sharpen your vision. It will strengthen your confidence. It will give you greater control of your life. It will bring you fun, joy and satisfaction. Reading is the key to the main door.”

Literacy has been taking a beating in other ways. A well-rounded education no longer confers a social cachet. No great value is attached to being articulate, which is a mark of having read widely.

To exercise an extensive vocabulary and display a wide knowledge of the world smacks of elitism in an age of equality. People who know how to use the language well can find themselves afraid to do so for fear of being thought of as snobbish. I’m not referring here to folk who show off.

Perhaps the last remaining place of acceptance for such is the political platform from which the speaker can always be met with the response of “Talk yuh talk, skipper!”

Reading is here to stay, if only for practical purposes, whether by way of books or any new technologies, currently in use, or coming in the future.

The big question for our civilisation is not whether people will be able to read, but what they will read. If they only read enough to do their jobs, receive a tweet, or spread a piece of juicy gossip, progress – economic and otherwise – could be impeded by poor communication and a paucity of the disciplined imagination that makes for development of our society.

Mere functional literacy will do little to further our quality of life.