Editor’s Note: Ann Macari Healey begins a regular column today about people, places and issues of everyday life in our communities. Before coming …
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Editor’s Note: Ann Macari Healey begins a regular column today about people, places and issues of everyday life in our communities. Before coming to Colorado in 1989 to edit and publish weekly newspapers with her husband, Colorado Community Media publisher Jerry Healey, she covered education, crime, city government and community life for The Miami Herald and The Providence Journal. She has won national and regional awards for her writing, including one for her local columns. She is looking forward to again sharing the community’s voices and stories with readers. Her column will appear every other week. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-566-4110.
Night had fallen by the time we headed back from the restaurant. My niece, Claudia, 9, buckled herself in, grabbed the dog-eared book on the seat and asked her dad for a flashlight.
Head bent, she started reading, the penlight illuminating a few lines at a time, just enough to send her into the world of a “Magic Tree House” adventure.
A 10-minute drive home. But for Claudia, with a book on her lap, a return trip into an unending flight of imagination.
There’s just about nothing she’d rather do than read. She reads at school; she reads in the car; she reads in her bed; she reads whenever she can. “It’s a good way to pass the time when your mom’s not ready,” Claudia says. And, “It’s really interesting.”
But the reality is that reading isn’t so interesting to an ever-increasing number of young people. Ask students in a high school class who likes to read and, more often than not, only a few raise their hands. Our nation’s literacy, quite simply, is at risk.
Consider these facts:
Nearly half of Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure.
The percentage of adults ages 18 to 44 who read a book unrelated to work or school over the course of a year fell seven points to 57 percent from 1992 to 2002.
Less than one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers outside of school.
The percentage of 17-year-olds who read nothing for pleasure has doubled to 19 percent over 20 years.
Those numbers come from the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2007 report “To Read or Not to Read - A Question of National Consequence.” The report shows that reading for fun significantly diminishes as a child gets older. The rise of the Internet, social media and the availability of ready-made instantaneous entertainment have a lot to do with that. Even attending college doesn’t guarantee good reading habits, because the number of college students who read literature also has declined.
Statistics unequivocally correlate reading ability to success in all areas: Those who read well do better in school. They hold good jobs, make more money, and become more involved in their communities.
But reading is more than an avenue to success. It also is a journey of awareness and inspiration. It pushes us to be curious about cultures and places we don’t know. It forces us to think outside our comfort zones and sparks us to imagine who we could be, what we could do and where we could go. It persuades us to dare to change.
“It is what you read when you don’t have to,” wrote the Irish novelist and journalist Oscar Wilde, “that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”
High school senior Ethan Wood agrees. “You can learn a lot about yourself by watching other characters’ lives unfold,” he says. “My favorite books have shaken what I thought about the world.”
Depending on the book, he says, the stories provide escape, an intellectual challenge or a perspective about culture and society. They’ve also revealed values to nurture: “I don’t ever want to find myself without hope.”
Ethan, whose passion for books is rooted in the difficulty he had learning to read when he was younger, discovers this knowledge in old and new ways. Although I will always crave the feel of a book and the soft whisper of turning pages, Ethan reads hardbacks for heavier, more challenging reading and ebooks for lighter, easier fare. At 2 a.m., when he can’t sleep, it’s his iPad he reaches for. And more are choosing that venue. The number of ebooks in library collections across the country, for instance, grew by 60 percent between 2005 and 2008. How many of those are being read by young people on iPads, Kindles and Nooks is unclear. But an educated guess would say it’s not enough. The truth is, it’s easier, more convenient, to choose TV or Facebook over a book because reading, sometimes, takes more effort.
We can’t lose this fight for a literate future. We must find ways to ensure the desire to read that ignites in children - as with Claudia and Ethan - embeds itself so deeply it won’t wither in the face of the competition.
We have a date, Claudia and I, later this summer.
We will head to a library or bookstore and slowly meander through the shelves, savoring the swirl of words until we find what we want. Then we will nestle into comfy chairs and begin to read. And, for a little while, we will lose ourselves in faraway places with people we’d otherwise never meet and stories we’d never know, until life outside our pages intrudes and calls us back.
I can’t wait.
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