Will the popularity of Kindle help or hurt whether young people read? Will the fact that people power-browse articles on their IPhones negatively effect their reading habits? Aren’t people too busy to read a 350 page novel in 2017? These are the kinds of questions I hear related as to why people might read less than they did in the past. I’m asking the same questions and I'm concerned.
I’d like to add an extra question (and answer) to this mix: Are Americans regularly exposed to enough book titles to be attracted to reading? I don't think so. Americans would read more if they were aware of the gigantic variety of books that already exist. People are ignorant about what books exist, therefore they do not desire to read.
Americans in the 21st century are excellent about “spreading the word.” The December 2017 diet for anyone watching Youtube videos or cable television will be to watch commercials advertising the movie “Darkest Hour” about Winston Churchill,” the Netflix series “Stranger Things” or the upcoming Monday night NFL game. We are informed about the latest Chevrolet SUV(tested by real people), a Gucci cologne commercial with Jared Leto (laying in bed with 2 women), an Iphone commercial with a beautiful narrative about urban existence and a heartfelt 30 second commercial asking us to donate $19 to St. Jude’s Hospital that could prevent a child from dying from cancer. That's a small sample of commercials I've seen this week. I most certainly want to go see the movie "Darkest Hour" about Winston Churchill----because I saw it advertised. These movies, products and ideas plant seeds in the average American’s mind-----young and old. Advertising influences the choices we make.
What if books were advertised on TV and the internet? There are multiple financial reasons why books are never advertised on television. But let’s just pretend that company existed for the sole purpose of inserting one book commercial into every 2 hours of television. This company did their best to insert a variety of book commercials from all genres both old and new. Furthermore, this company successfully existed for the next 10 years, inserting book titles into the daily diet of Youtube and cable television viewers everywhere(Sling, Netflix, whatever). I believe that this company would seriously make Americans more interested in reading simply by informing people about the kinds of books that have been published in 2017, along with older books that were published 30 years ago.
If this hypothetical company existed, that advertised 1 book during every 2 hours of television, I believe that Americans would read more books. Why? Because they would no longer be ignorant about what books existed.
I don't think a company like this could exist. Yet advertising books on television illustrates a larger point: If people know about books, they will do what it takes to buy or check out the book. I believe a large part of the American population is not regularly exposed to interesting book titles. Therefore, for anyone who is anxious about the future of books (educators, writers, journalists, readers) I think we must be intentional exposing others to book titles. With today’s colorful book covers, long subtitles and extensive book summaries, I don’t think people always need someone telling them “Read this book.” I think if they get the books in their hands, that will create enough curiosity.
We must ask “What are creative ways we expose young and old to various book titles?”
For me, standing in front of a bookshelf was enough for me. This is the old fashioned way for getting exposed to books. I spent the summer of 2004 working at Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters, a Christian camp in Western North Carolina. I had an eye-opening experience at the camp library that summer. Since some of the staff lived on campus, two or three of the staff there had combined their personal libraries into a communal library. This resulted in library of recent books on theology, sociology, history and Christian literature.
At the time, I was hungry for theological knowledge, and I remember picking up the book “Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don't Think and What to Do About It” by Os Guinness. The book made the argument that many Christians had become anti-intellectual. I’d wondered that myself. What did this guy know about it? I had to find out. Most of the theological books had been published within the last 10-15 years, so they had insightful book covers that gave me enough information to make me semi-anxious that I only had 48 hours off on the weekends, making it nearly impossible to read the books I wanted to read. In many cases, if you let a person roam free in the library-----they can find books they want to read.
A majority of the books in this library were my friend Zach Mabry’s. He saw my interest and suggested I read “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” by Neil Postman. Of all the books I’d read in college, no book has had a greater influence on the way I teach my classes. And this, of course, was not assigned reading for a literature or sociology or education class. This was not assigned reading. Yet Zach's suggestion that I read Neil Postman's book gave me that little push that made me want to read it. Sometimes in a sea of books, you do need some guidance.
But then again, why should we care? Why do we need to care about whether people are reading in the second decade of the 21st century? This matters because books have been life-saving for me. The books I came into contact with in the summer of 2004 kept me sane in college and helped me develop into a teacher at a community college. Without experiences like this in a summer camp in Western North Carolina when I was 20 years old, I would not be the person I am today. These books did not simply entertain me when I was bored, they helped me become an adult.
People can benefit from (1) browsing books in someone's personal library and/or (2) having a respected friend give them a book suggested. These things worked for me. Furthermore, we shouldn't underestimate the value of (3) wandering around in a public library or even (4) posting on social media about books we've recently read.
If we are anxious about the future of books, we need to think beyond the threats that technology presents. There’s no doubt that technology developed in the last 10-15 years will negatively affect reading. Television and the Smartphone are doing damage distracting people. But then again, in the 1970’s and the 1980’s people did not read as much because of the distraction of television.
We must think about how to practically expose people to books on a regular basis. Sometimes it is as simple as just getting someone to read the book title and hold the book in their hand. With today's colorful covers and detailed sub-titles and book covers------that can be enough to make them read the first chapter.
There's not telling what minor personal problems or major world problems can be solved with a generation that takes the time to read.