A Requiem for the Art of Reading and a Call to Action

One of my chiefest worries as a writer myself is you – the reader. Sure, a great degree of the point in my writing anything at all is just because I love to do it – I’m well aware that many of these articles are probably just swooping out into the ether, uncaught and sort of just floating along in the ocean of the web like missed driftwood. This I don’t particularly mind (not particularly – would be nice to have a couple of reader friendlings, though)! However, I do occasionally worry as to what this might mean, in the grander scheme of things.

Are we losing interest in the subject of reading as a whole?

What would happen if people just… stopped reading? Libraries would crumble! Books would be redundant! My Literature degree would be totally pointless! The beautiful and ancient art of reading – communicating through basic symbology and language – would be dead.

I am having mini palpitations just thinking about it.

But it does feel like a cause for anxiety, to an extent. Magazines and the “quick reads” that Buzzfeed, for instance, proffer, sort of seem to be taking over as much of our literary consumption. Where we might have read books as kids before bed, we now browse through articles and fillers, which can’t remain in our heads the same way a story would.

Please don’t think me to be pretentious. I’m not putting down these kinds of sites at all – I am a fan of them myself, and look at them often. I particularly love The Huffington Post and The Daily Mash. I just worry about, I suppose, the death of a deeper, more fantastical imagination, the imagination you harbour as a kid when you’re intaking a steady diet of books and games. When I was younger my mind was completely rife with ideas – every day I’d be concocting a new dream, a new plan, a new idea for a story and jotting it down – myself the Phantom, the paper, Christine.

I still have ideas – but ideas that befit an article. Not ideas that befit a whole story, which is ultimately what I want to create.

But to create a story, you need to conjure up imagination. And where is that right now? I feel like a lot of the films I see nowadays are based from books I’ve never heard of – it’s great that the book is being exposed in turn, but why should a film be needed before a book is noticed? More than this, there are so many words in the English language that we now never use, that were rife in old books – puissant, mellifluous, superfluous, verisimilitude. Bloody hell – where is our very language going!? Is it declining with a general decline in bookishness?

Surely that’s not good.

I know that there are avid readers out there – it’s evident from the existence of sites like Goodreads, the creation of the Kindle and places like Waterstones. But from my personal experience and understanding, I don’t know anyone, really, anymore who consumes books with the speed and delight of my childish counterpart (and, most likely, their childish counterparts, too). This is largely because, obviously, there are many things in life to be getting on with, as well as the act of reading. I just worry that the act of reading is being totally sidelined by other things, all the time.

Every day you are amassed with distractions – a busy working life, people you want to see, reading the newspaper instead of your book that you carry around which is more like a handbag ornament than a form of entertainment. Finding a book that captivates you, in the same way that the Charlie Bone series or Harry Potter captivated you as a child, is hard. Perhaps I am being exclusivist, here – maybe I am just exploring the wrong genres of book, which is why I’m now finding myself lacking good reading content and consequently a desire to read itself. I might be acting overdramatically. But I feel “dulled”. I worry that our dependency on digital products – such as computers and phones, and in turn Facebook and other social forums – is ruining our desire to seek entertainment elsewhere, to expand our own minds and to “escape” the crazy reality we find ourselves running around in day after day.

I remember being told that reading was a “waste of time” when I was a kid. I chose to ignore it, of course, but I remember it shaking me, being an impressionable youngster. I was then consistently told the same thing when I was studying books at university, that I was studying a degree of “nothing” that would get me nowhere. There are so many things to question these (rather rude) statements with – such as, (playing devil’s advocate, here, as I do believe reading has a positive, societal effect) why does everything you do in life have to have a socially positive outcome, as opposed to a positive outcome just for you? Why shouldn’t you study something that you want, just for yourself? More than this, perhaps the act of reading itself looks like “nothing” or a “waste of time”, as it doesn’t contribute to society in a physical, hands-on sense – but I consider the act to be equivalent to that of historic resurrection, or philosophy. Exercising the mind is just as important as exercising the body, unless you want our society to turn into a bunch of robotic, dependent individuals.

I’m not saying that you can’t exercise the mind in other ways – video games and film allow this, for instance. But nothing can exercise your mind quite like reading, as this act in particular gives you a degree of independence that you will not equally discover with most other platforms. When you read, the words on the page are your own, the images in your head your own. You have no assistance, visually, here – it’s up to you. And we need that to nurture imagination. Creative giants can’t hold your hand through the entire process of “imagining” – the script, the visuals, the sounds – and expect you to be a wholly independent thinker by the end of it. But isn’t this what we appear to lack? Imagination without nannying?

In short, I miss the sensation of creating something. Of having imagination being an integral part of my thoughts.

Your mind and your brain are different things, and I think we need to place more concentration on the mind.

Let’s fall in love with reading again. Mad, wild, unadulterated love! Read everything within a cover! Turn pages! Throw your computer out of the window (don’t do that)! I want to feel what I felt as a kid when I picked up a book and felt like I’d just been paid a massive salary. I’m a little dusty at the art, but I’m ready to leap back on the bike.

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