The 12-year-old who is grounded from his iPad: I’m bored. There’s literally nothing to do.
Me: There’s a hundred great books in this house. Pick one.
The 12-year-old: But, Dad, reading isn’t any fun. I have to read in school; why would I want to do that at home?
Me: *bangs head against wall until falling into sweet unconsciousness.*
Anybody else had this nightmare of a conversation with your kid? Fun, isn’t it? All three of my children, at one time or another, have considered any suggestion of them reading a novel without being made to do so to be some kind of prank, as if there’s a hidden camera filming their reactions. Dad couldn’t possibly be serious, they think. Reading on purpose is something people did in the olden, black and white days, back when the steam-powered compact disc mills were still in operation. We have iPhones now! Why the heck would we choose to read?
It really makes me wonder if my generation might be the last of the real readers. Is this possible?
I was lucky enough to have been raised in a time (the 1970s) and a place (the rural North Carolina mountains) where there was little to do after the sun went down. We usually didn’t get more than three TV stations, and even then, somebody (usually me) had to stand with one finger on the rabbit ears antenna and the opposite arm and leg outstretched, like DaVinci’s The Vitruvian Man, just to kind of get a picture.
“Mark, go hold the rabbit ears,” my dad would instruct. “We can’t see John Boy.”
Eventually, I couldn’t hold my arms up anymore and would give up, slinking away to my room. To entertain myself, I would read books. Real books. Y’know, the paper kind.
My heroes weren’t famous actors or musicians; they were Doc Savage, the Hardy Boys, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. They were Charlie Bucket, William Tell Sackett, Paul and Maureen Beebe of Chincoteague Island. They were anyone who lived within the margins of a classic novel.
Reading a book wasn’t a chore, it was a privilege. It was fun. It was awesome. It was inspiring. And it all happened within the synapses of my own noggin. My brain had to fill in the blanks, and it was good at it. Plus, the reception was always perfect. Most shocking of all was the fact that I loved to read and, given the choice, would usually choose it over other available forms of entertainment.
You’ve all heard people of my generation complaining about this before, so I won’t indulge myself much further, but in 2019, reading books seems nearly to be a lost art, even for adults. Technology and its evil brother, the Internet, has conspired against us. Entertainment is so plentiful and easy to access, we often don’t see the point in reading something longer than … hang on… 427 words.
There, you just surpassed the threshold. Keep going!
I’m as guilty these days as anyone. It’s darned easy to go down a YouTube rabbit hole or get sucked into a well-designed game on an iPhone screen. I’m terrible about it.
But every time I decide to embark on reading a new book, I immediately enjoy myself. In the process, I’m convinced I can actually feel the brain cells that have atrophied due to too many repeated viewings of The Office beginning to perk up, as if they’re considering a return to productivity. I’ve been on a roll lately. I just finished David McCullough’s masterful The Wright Brothers, after having polished off Robert Morgan’s Daniel Boone a few weeks ago. I can’t remember when I’ve ever been so proud of my American heritage and fired up to get things done. (Wilbur, Orville, and Daniel were all avid readers, by the way.)
You don’t get ground-breaking innovation and iconic heroism from Angry Birds. You just get … well … angry birds.
I understand. Life will never be as simple as it once was, and time will never be as empty. From here on out for us humans, there will be a million fun and pointless distractions yelling at us from within our phones, iPads, and TVs, providing us with a million easy reasons not to spend a quiet hour with a good book.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Use that neglected “Off” button on your phone. Invest in good reading glasses and try not to misplace them, like I inevitably do. Block out the time, grab a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee, and start reading. Let the candy crush itself for a while.
“Dang, I really regret investing the time it took me to read that amazing book,” said no one ever. “I wish I was a little less smart right now.”
This post was previously published on Doofus Dad and is republished here with permission from the author.
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