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Are we reading enough?

| Thursday, November 11, 2021

Claire Kirner | The Observer

It is often said that young people have lost the habit of reading. But after all, do they really read less?

According to Kelly Jensen, writer for the “Book Riot” editorial, “Americans age 15 and older increased their daily reading average from 17 minutes per day in 2019 to 20 minutes per day in the same time frame in 2020. Two demographics, those between the ages of 20 and 34 and those over age 65, increased their daily reading average the most. Those older than 75 had the largest time increases in reading last year, clocking in at an average of 57 minutes a day.”

It is no surprise that more time at home led many to enjoy such fruitful activities. Last year also featured a sales increase in all literary categories. Juvenile fiction and nonfiction underwent an 11% and 23.1% increase respectively, while adult fiction and nonfiction gained a 6% and 8% increase. However, young adult fiction and nonfiction experienced the largest change, amounting to respective increases of 21.4% and 38.3%.

To complete our statistical overview — albeit with a layer of nuance from an unpromising fact — a survey conducted by Pew Research Center through January 2021 revealed 23% of American adults claim to not have read a single book for the past year. However, it is worth noting that a basic evaluation of the United States suggests an unfavorable educational setting, with 21% of adults falling into the illiterate or functionally illiterate category per the National Center for Educational Statistics. But how many, among the individuals who were taught how to read, actually take advantage of their privilege?

In one sense, young people read increasingly more as they possess ready access to streams of content and information. However, the quality of this content may be dubious. Short texts and bite-sized articles from unofficial sources slowly replace classic literature, virtually eliminating aspects of cognitive development associated with reading such as higher vocabulary and concentration. As such, we must promote the inclusion of mediators in the reading process. Whether they be teachers, librarians or caregivers, catering quality literature is their duty.

Although the pleasure in reading may have slightly increased, it is still necessary to further encourage this habit which so profoundly changes and improves lives. To name a few of its many benefits, reading develops concentration, selective focus and imagination and preserves the health of the brain. It also enhances memory, helps prevent Alzheimer’s and remains the best way to deeply understand any subject. Additionally, reading stimulates the ability to solve problems, as stories bring up obstacles similarly encountered in life. Avid readers can speak and write with greater eloquence and fluidity, making their thoughts easy for others to follow. Further, numerous books contain the power to humanize souls, nurture feelings, develop empathy and motivate readers to pursue their dreams and goals.

Treating an otherwise pleasurable activity as an obligation can drive away young children and adolescents. Allowing teenagers to discover their literary identity is critical since certain authors or themes may entirely captivate their interest. While parents may worry about content variety, restricting options merely increases enmity; instead, recognizing what enables the most satisfaction in young readers is the first step to expanding their repertoire.

A passion for reading need not begin with strictly literary works; it may start to flourish through comic books, magazines and illustrated books. E-books, books that address relevant topics, comic book versions of classics and a myriad of other accessible tools contribute to the democratization of reading. Encouraging this habit is essential, from “storytime” in childhood to the development of welcoming spaces for reading adept to the changing times. Readers, no matter their age, must be enchanted by the magic of the act itself as well as their personal identification with the stories they encounter.

Most importantly, sharing experiences is crucial to the collective growth of a habit. Older leaders must share their personal literary journey with younger generations, and if they do not have one, it is the perfect opportunity to exemplify the conduct they would like to observe. As for young adults themselves, perhaps reading — beyond all of its aforementioned benefits — is a form of expression like no other, calming the mind from the extremeness of this world by allowing us to forsake our own egos, if only for a few moments.

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About Marcelle Couto

Marcelle Couto is a freshman coursing the joint Philosophy/Theology major as well as Music. She is from São Paulo, Brazil, and was born in Rochester MN. Marcelle currently resides in Cavanaugh Hall.

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