Conversations in some circles tend to gravitate often towards the fact that reading is a dying pastime. We have read so much through the years, and still do, they say, but our children don’t read. And when their turn comes… will their children? What then will happen to the written word? To language? To all those books… the ones that have been written eons ago and survived the turn of a millennium; the more recent ones, and the ones still being written, published, and sent out into a shrinking world of readers.
If there is a strange mismatch in the fact that almost everyone is a writer who finds a way to get work into print and yet there’s a lack of a reading public, there is a strange irony in the fact that most of the new breed of writers don’t read books. Writing and reading are seen as separate occupations, related only incidentally, when a reference needs looking up perhaps.
But to get back to our pet peeve, the dying art of reading. Sharing here a pean on the joys of reading, the sheer high of receiving a newly minted book, smelling its pages and awaiting the free moment that lets you dive into it, is preaching to the pious.
Reading has been relegated to the only-if-you-must category because as we all know, the smorgasbord of diversions for mind, ear and eye is loaded heavily, its joys far outweighing that of the single-dimensional word on the printed page. Color and action, fleshed-out characters sweeping their way across the screen are serious addictions, threatening the ramparts of even the most serious book-lined home. Add to it the access to pulsating playlists, and play stations that spike the adrenaline when life gets dull, and the book easily slips into the realm of the invisible.
Reading, like writing, is an active pastime. The offerings of the visual, moving media are pre-packaged and ready to assimilate by the simple osmosis of staring at a screen. All the hard work is done with, the receiver has a passive task of being entertained. While the writer shares his work with the reader, making demands of vocabulary, imagination and concentration. Ergo, the written word bows out to the power of the moving image.
Yet, there is hope for the word. Audio books read out with adequate emotion and feeling by modulated voices can yet create magic, and the word wield its power over the mind. And as long as words, regardless of language, can spin out phrases, concepts, images and expressions, language will thrive. The written word and its mysterious revelations are after all what sets us apart in the evolutionary ladder. Let’s not lose that place.
Author & Consulting Editor, Penguin Random House