Reading is much underrated

Michael J. Greenberg

If you think reading is a more popular recreational activity than watching TV or going to the movies, you aren’t living on the same planet that I am.

Everywhere I look and observe and inquire, reading is not only not picking up steam, it has actually consistently and steadily lost its luster as one of the most popular leisure activities of humankind.

To the typical college student and to many working adults, reading is so much associated with “work” that when they pick up a book, they invariably yawn. Reading, in other words, is no longer a fun activity, but a boring chore, something that one does at work or in his or her studies to get a better grade to ensure higher pay down the road. One reads to make money. Reading for fun? Forget it. Most people would much prefer to turn on the television or listen to music.

Kazuo Ishiguro, the British writer who gave us The Remains of the Day, was in the middle of doing a reading at a Barnes & Noble in New York when a helicopter suddenly appeared in the window behind him. According to Newsweek, Ishiguro joked that “they were filming a Bruce Willis movie … it completely drowned out the event.”

Writers or fans of Ishiguro alike will conveniently point to a comment made by Ishiguro a while back when he complained about it being expected that writers take time away from what they do best — writing —to globe-trot to promote their work. Ishiguro argues that such up close and personal interactions with readers tend to influence what writers write, thereby causing them to lose their individualism that tend to make great writers. Commercialization seems to be working everywhere, including the literary world.

It is common to see people buy books not to read thoroughly or to fully understand and grasp what is between the covers, but sometimes more likely just to show off to their friends that they have the book at home or in the office. Legions of books are hastily manufactured to exploit the decorative needs of the empty minds. Commonly, book purchase has become impulse buying, like millions regularly do on their grocery shopping trips after watching Oprah’s hawking. Do you think these books get read the way they should? I, for one, seriously doubt it.

Why is reading losing its popularity? Of course it has to do with many reasons. One of which is reading requires quality time, which isn’t something we are particularly blessed with. And reading is an active activity, requiring constant, critical thinking, unlike popular passive pastimes such as watching TV or listening to radio. To many people, active and critical thinking may not be their idea of relaxation after a day of hard work.

But, as in almost anything in this world, the law of supply and demand rules. The more people are not reading, the better the few that do will fare. Is it any wonder then, that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the No. 1 and No. 2 richest men in the world, respectively, are more than ferocious readers?

Michael J. Greenberg is a graduate student and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.

Editor’s note: Michael J. Greenberg is a pseudonym. He can be contacted through the editor at [email protected].