Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Glad I Was Bitten By the Reading Bug

According to the non-profit organization Intellectual Takeout, 27% of Americans did not read one book last year,  which inspired me to encore this column first published almost 14 years ago.

As an avid reader I occasionally feel guilty when I don’t allow sufficient time to pursue that particular pleasure.
I’ve always found reading to be a wonderful diversion from the stress of everyday life. Whether reading fiction or non-fiction, there’s undeniable anticipation in the pages of a book.
Recently, I’ve assuaged that guilt and gotten back to a reading regimen. In the last two months I’ve read four books — three short, non-fiction hardbacks and a 900-page paperback novel. I’m currently midway through a John Grisham book.
My tastes vary, but I prefer fiction. Some of my favorite contemporary authors are Stephen King, Tom Clancy and Grisham. I used to love the political intrigue of Allen Drury, the generational sagas of Leon Uris and the historical bent of James Michener’s novels.
I began my love for books in my youth, spurred on by my mother’s Mark Twain and Charles Dickens collections. One of the first non-school books I read was “Tom Sawyer,” which segued right into “Huckleberry Finn.”
My zeal for reading continued through 16 years of school, but it was often difficult to squeeze in leisure reading when faced with many required reading assignments.
When I worked in Manhattan my transit time was habitually spent reading while sitting in those uncomfortably molded plastic subway seats. My starting point was second on the Brooklyn-Manhattan run, so I generally got a seat in the morning rush-after jostling with other equally aggressive commuters.
Aside from a brief nap or people watching, there’s nothing more time consuming when you’re traveling solo on the subway than reading. During the 45-60 minute trip from Sheepshead Bay to midtown Manhattan, I typically got through 40 and 50 pages or most of that week's edition of Newsweek.
I dreaded the jam-packed, daily commute, but time passed quickly with a book. Though I infrequently travel by subway these days, whenever I do it alone, I bring reading material.
When I briefly lived and worked in Los Angeles in the early 90’s, I learned to cope with the typical morning and afternoon commute by car without any opportunity for rush-hour reading. Even when traffic proceeds at a snail’s pace for several miles, it’s not wise to be distracted - whether it’s a book OR a cell phone.
The reading-while-commuting quandary was sort of resolved with the advent of audio books. But I prefer the conventional means when reading.
Currently there’s an emphasis on reading in schools because student test scores — locally and nationally — in the last decade have been shamefully low. New York City students may be on vacation in July and August, yet they are strongly encouraged to read from lists provided by the Board of Education.
Children who read regularly generally expand their language, communication and writing skills. Early literacy advocates even suggest that reading to infants creates a foundation that children build on as they age.
Nonetheless, children need to be children. There’s nothing wrong with them enjoying television, video games, spending time on the computer or playing with friends. However, those activities should not substitute for reading.
Studies have clearly shown that young readers who have stories read with and to them from an early age tend to be better students. Reading, like other habits-good and bad-doesn’t happen automatically. Children must be encouraged and, if necessary, prodded to pick up a book in lieu of sitting in front of the TV or computer.
Books can entertain and books can teach. Books take readers to familiar places and to worlds that only exist in the imagination. They can make you laugh, make you cry and bestow a sense of wonder. And the best part is not knowing what’s on the next page.
The reading bug sunk its teeth into me years ago. That nibble has grown into an irresistible love of books. Reading is not just a way of passing the time. Curling up with an entertaining, engrossing book is time well spent.