Last week, I questioned your music choices. This week, I’m questioning your ability to read…for pleasure.
While you are listening to your favorite song on the radio or some app (promoted and paid for by a record label) during an intense session of Candy Crush as you wait for a movie to download on your Google TV, billions of trees are dying in vain. Their skin was used for something we produce but never use…books.
According to a Pew Research study released earlier this year, nearly 1 in 4 American adults did not read a single book. That’s a quite a few, and the 76 percent of adults who did read a book were probably reading “Fifty Shades of Gray” or “The Andy Cohen Diaries.” Furthermore, the study did not ask whether or not required reading for educational purposes was included. Rather, the question was, “During the past 12 months, about how many BOOKS did you read either all or part of the way through? Please include any print, electronic, or audiobooks you may have read or listened to.” If you were to include only books read for pleasure, you can expect that number to plummet even further down the depths of illiterate hell.
Even though there are many educational and enlightening television shows/apps/etc., books can offer something that no technology can. First and foremost, who gets to write and publish a book is based more on a meritocracy than other forms of entertainment. A history professor at UMKC can write a book about the Civil War. Meanwhile, expert academic programming gets turned down for “Ancient Aliens” on The History Channel. While movie studios are sourcing focus groups for the 30th installment of the Fast and Furious franchise, brilliant writers with original, creative minds are pumping out novels left and right.
In a digital age where culture is being shaped by social media, the battle for who is morally superior is being fought hard. Whenever something tragic happens, check Facebook and Twitter and watch everyone let you know how they are affected. Throw some popcorn in the microwave and recline in your chair while everyone spews out their expert analysis on any given situation. Do you want to claim true superiority over people? Read a book!
Studies show that reading not only can increase one’s brain function, but also one’s ability to empathize. Sitting down by yourself in silence using nothing more than your brain to soak in the words on a page is a lost activity. We rely on the predetermined imagery of movies, television and whatever is on your computer screen to paint a picture. With a book, you can paint the picture of a scene or character with your own imagination and creativity. There’s a lot to be said about that.
Last week, I wrote about how Pandora, radio and other sources are tainting your music choices through deals with record labels. Finding the perfect band is difficult when mainstream media is dangling shit dipped in chocolate in front of us. I suggested doing your own research and consulting an expert. The same is true for books and reading. That is why I reached out to Kaite Stover, Director of Readers’ Services at Kansas City Public Library. Here’s a breakdown of what Stover does:
My job as a readers’ advisor is to function like a biblio-sommelier. You tell me what you like, and I’ll do my best to pair you with a book that will appeal to all your senses (except eating. Don’t chew the books. Or the eReaders.).
You know that craft beer guy in your circle who is ALWAYS trying to get someone to try the latest collaboration? Even his avowed wine drinking friends or the ones who will ONLY drink the infused gins? I kind of do that. Everywhere. I talk about books with my friends, my colleagues, strangers. Its how we get folks to try new things that they may not have considered. That’s what the crackerjack readers’ services staff do at Kansas City Public Library. We TALK to people about books and reading. All the time. Inside and outside of the Library.
To start, she directed me towards this study, which reveals that Americans under 30 are actually reading more. That makes sense considering that “Reading fiction increases our empathy, our sympathy, our tolerance and understanding of cultures and viewpoints that are vastly different from our own,” as she pointed out. Don’t take her word for it; read the actual study. Adults over 30 tend to be the ones calling Obama a Muslim and believe Darren Wilson is a saint. Read a book! Hey…wait…put down “Mein Kampf.”
Stover noted that although reading is a solitary activity, it is also very much a community activity. People don’t read a book, put it on the shelf and walk away. Rather, they discuss what they read with other people, even if the listener doesn’t give a shit. More often than not, fictional books are more intellectual and progressive. No one who thinks 9/11 was an inside job has the brain capacity to write a novel. Conversely, those who are protesting for gay rights and racial equality tend to know how to string a sentence together in beautiful prose. These sentiments in novels stick with the reader who in turn passes it on to those he or she communicates with.
I think I made my point: reading is super important. It’s cheaper than a video game habit and as stimulating – intellectually and emotionally – as a chess match. Whether it’s Are You My Mother or War and Peace, grinding the gears in your head is rewarding. Need some help? Contact Stover at email@example.com. She’s the ‘60s DJ telling you what rocks…of the book world. Where can you go? I’ll let Stover take the floor:
Library, people. LIBRARY. It’s not just books. It’s a community center for civic engagement. It’s a RedBox (free). It’s Netflix (wider selection and FREE). It’s iTunes (again). It’s the Alamo (sometimes. But again, FREE). It’s quiet, has interesting people to talk to, and damn fine coffee. We are a sanctuary of intellectualism in Kansas City and we’re not going to judge your reading tastes or anything else about you.
Go! And may I suggest “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs” by Chuck Klosterman.
This week on Soundtrack of the Week, we discuss…BOOKS! Shocker, I know. Don’t worry, it’s not as boring as actual books, which we just established is anything but boring. The podcast is intellectually stimulating as well. In Part I, we discuss a Ferguson update, a Crazy Facebook Republican Militia Guy, why movies suck, death whistles and more!