By TOMMY DRUEN
Kids can be mean, especially towards each other. This statement isn’t groundbreaking; we all acknowledge its truth. Most of us have encountered it in one form or another. I’m not justifying this behavior, but it’s a reality we all must face at some point.
While the taunts on the playground may have evolved in terms, the fundamental meaning remains constant. “Garbage” has replaced “loser,” and “freak” now stands in for “geek.” Terms that target a person’s race, ethnicity or sexual preferences appear to be constantly evolving.
However, a label I was branded with seems to have faded away. While this might sound positive, my concern is that it’s because the underlying reason is becoming rarer. You see, early in life I was pinned with and am, a self-admitted bookworm.
This name may have disappeared, much like the terms such as “square,” “fuddy-duddy” and “ratfink,” terms that sound ridiculous to us today but likely cause many tears on pillows in a bygone era. Yet, I can’t find a modern equivalent, even though I doubt bookworms have become the epitome of popularity.
I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. Since you’re reading a column in a newspaper, it’s highly likely that you are too . . . or there is the chance that you accidentally left your phone in the car and the nurse will call you back soon. When it comes to reading, I’m quite ecumenical. Books, newspapers, magazines, websites – hardly a day goes by without me consuming from all these sources. Nor am I particular about subject matter, enjoying fiction, non-fiction, poety and prose alike.
I didn’t really have a choice, being born into a family of readers. My mom worked as a librarian and my dad was a history teacher. My grandparents, who lived next door, both served on the board of our public library. My wife easily surpasses me in the number of books she reads. We have multiple rooms with bookshelves and occasionally have to cull the inventory to make room for new books.
Years ago, I realized that being a bookworm wasn’t something of which to be ashamed. Sure, my free throw percentage or my social life may have suffered from the time my nose was in a book, but life is about trade-offs, right? However, recently, I came across some statistics that gave me cause for concern.
- In the past year, 48.5% of American adults have not read a book.
- Only 19% of American adults read for entertainment.
- While the American literacy rate stands at 99%, only half of our adults can read on an 8th-grade level with ease.
- The average Indian adult reads 10 hours per week, the highest in the world. The United States ranks 23rd, with those between the ages of 15 and 44 reading less than 10 minutes per day.
- An American who reads four books a year has read more than 70% of other Americans.
These statistics worry me, not just for the future of these individuals, but for the future of our nation. How can we expect to keep pace with the rest of the world when we blatantly ignore the wealth of resources provided us?
I fully understand that we live in a society with various learning options. Personally, being mechanically deficient, I’m more likely to understand a YouTube video demonstrating how to do something than a vague set of instructions (I’m looking at you, Ikea!). At the same time, I question whether people are truly consuming materials that compensate for educational deficiencies resulting from a lack of reading.
Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, once remarked, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
The benefits of reading are indisputable. The same data cited above shows that children who read 20 minutes a day are likely to perform better on tests than 90% of their classmates. That same 20 minutes of reading per day is shown to reduce stress in adults by over 68%. And 86% of Americans earning over $75,000 annually read at least one book per year.
If you’ve made it this far, I know I’m preaching to the choir. However, as we move towards a new year, let’s all make a resolution to read a bit more. Let’s learn, relax, escape . . . it doesn’t really matter what the topic is, just find something that makes us better.
Tommy Druen is a syndicated columnist who resides in Georgetown, Kentucky.