Today was the perfect day to sit outside under a shady tree and read a good book. Reading is one of my favorite pass times and although I don’t get as much time as I would like to read for leisure, I fully understand the importance of reading and the wisdom it can impart on a person. Whether it is a fast-paced thriller, or a cozy classic, or even a simple comic book, reading anything is like soaking up the knowledge that can expand ones mind beyond their immediate surroundings. That is why I love reading; because, you don’t go anywhere– but in a way you do. A book allows you to get outside of your own mundane reality and step into the shoes of a variety of characters, leading lives completely different from our own.
It is not shocking that the zeal for reading has dropped drastically in recent years, especially for teens, but also for adults. It seems almost like a lost moment in time when I see someone actually sitting down and reading a book on their own accord. Leisure reading in the U.S. is at an all-time low with “the share of Americans who read for pleasure on a given day… (having) fallen by more than 30 percent since 2004” (The Washington Post). This is directly correlated with the fact that the attention span of the general population is also decreasing. The majority of people may question why they should read when, they get a more quick gratification from scrolling through posts on social media. Teens are especially susceptible to a low attention span as Generation Z has never experienced a world where they could not gain fast, free, and easy entertainment right at their fingertips. Reading is seen as boring, time-consuming, and slowly but surely, it is going extinct.
A few years ago, I read the novel ‘Fahrenheit 451′ by Ray Bradbury in school. In the novel, Bradbury warns against the dangers of a dystopian society that forbids reading for pleasure. Today, I am reading the novel ‘1984‘ by George Orwell, which, similarly, warns against the dangers of disregarding knowledge and blindly trusting information relayed through the media. When it comes to dystopia, I used to hold to the mindset that a population must be aware of things like the government. I thought novels such as these, were warnings of overt control in a dystopian society; I thought realities like those shown could never occur in “real life”, that people wouldn’t allow that to happen. However, nowadays, when I consider these novels, I realize that it is not necessarily a single all-powerful force one has to be aware of but rather, the possibility that society is digging its own grave. Maybe, we don’t need someone or something to strip us of knowledge–maybe we are doing that to ourselves.
As philosophical and protracted as that was, being a teenager myself, I understand that reading consistently for pleasure is not always feasible. In fact, I find it almost impossible to finish a novel these days, not because I do not love to read, but simply because I somehow cannot find the time or the energy to sit still with a book. Overall, as a generation, teenagers today are overworked and overexposed to mass media which would exhaust anyone. Personally, I find that after a tiring day, I tend to turn to T.V. instead of reading to ‘give my eyes a break’. In reality, watching T.V. is actually doing the opposite of that. The amount of time we spend on phones, laptops, and televisions everyday is causing unnecessary fatigue, yet we still go back to these same devices as a solution to fill a void. The real solution is simple: less screens, more text.
When it comes to reading, I genuinely believe that anyone can learn to love it. It’s similar to T.V. or YouTube in the fact that, ultimately, everyone loves a good story and it is rare nowadays to come across someone who says that they hate T.V. Reading on the other hand is a different story. Something I have observed about my peers and friends is the content and nearly prideful attitude many of them hold about the fact that they hate reading. I constantly hear people my age practically bragging about how they won’t pick up a book, or how they cheat their way through school-assigned reading with Sparknotes. I sit and watch dolefully as other teenagers sneer at those who read for fun, those in the minority. It is this that brought me to the realization of how teenagers must change their attitude around reading.
Firstly, reading does not have to be your favorite hobby or your top priority or, even something you do at all. Sure, it is something that will expand your horizons and teach you lessons outside your comfort zone. But, there is nothing anyone can do to make teenagers read more. At the end of the day, it must come from an awareness that screens and instant gratification from social media will not fulfill you forever. The realization will come that there is something about a book that sticks with you, the way a TikTok video never can. Still, the most vital switch to make as a whole, is the idea that not reading makes you superior. This is the scariest mindset. As a book lover, I am always wishing I had more time for reading and even more of a passion for it. I am in constant awe at those who are able to consume book after book, never seeming to satisfy their insatiable hunger for knowledge. I respect those types of people and hold them to the highest regard, in full acceptance that they must know masses more than I do. It is this mindset which I aim to see my generation embrace. Once again, it comes down to the fact that teenagers have been trained to be competitive, to always want to seem like they are doing the most or the best job. I know that the reason so many of my peers view reading as lame or a waste of time may, in reality, be a secret envy. Still, it is important to keep in mind that young people are very sensitive to criticism. The more a teenager is made to feel that reading is inherently bad, the less they will do it — and that is how reading will slowly become a dying art, and knowledge will become nothing more than another tweet or shared Instagram story.
Tonight before you go to sleep, consider picking up a new book. It can be something short and simple, or something longer. Even if you are reading for school, open those pages with the mindset of being let in on a secret. When half the world is running in circles to get away from the incredible, thought-provoking journey that is reading, being part of the small group who actually immerses themselves in the process, is like being part of a secret society: a society of knowledge.
“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” -Ray Bradbury