I have heard from two different people this week that reading is in decline. One was a friend on a writing forum who just had a feeling he was right. The second was in the Guardian, so I took it slightly more seriously... for about two seconds.
The theory is, that there are so many other forms of entertainment these days, the internet, video games, text messages, Sky plus boxes, bionic arms... that there’s no time left for books. We are all assaulted from every direction by things that yearn to amuse us. Our time is no longer our own and that like-it-or-not we will find ourselves playing Resident Evil 4 for three hours a night before switching on Celebrity Come Dining on Ice. The world has gone to hell in an electronic handcart.
But, it’s not true, is it?
For a number of reasons.
First of all, I’m not convinced that there ever was a time when we spent all our leisure time reading. Yes, sure, maybe some Victorian families read to each other after dinner, but only the ones who weren’t working shifts down in the cotton mines. Certainly, when I was growing up in the 1980s in Wales, the idea that we should sit down and read aloud to each other after a meal would have been met with disbelief, then laughter. After all, Coronation Street was on.
And, even if we did have leisure time for reading, I’m not sure how many people read for fun. My guess is that it has always been a minority interest. I was definitely the only one in my junior school who did. Admittedly, it was a very small school; there were 10 people in my year. So, 10% of us (me) read for fun; All the other kids had BMXs and He-man figures and Mr Frostys and there was one wondrous day when even I put down my book because Hayley got a ZX-Spectrum and we could play Space Invaders. I never saw anyone else in my street read anything other than the Beano for fun.
Finally, most crucially, just because we have Facebook and Avatar and iPads doesn’t mean you have to surround yourself with them. If you want to read a book, well, what’s stopping you? The digital world isn’t being beamed onto the back of our eyeballs just yet! As another of my favourites shows from the 80s said, ‘why don’t you just switch off your TV set and go out and do something less boring instead?’
Like read a book.
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