Saturday, July 30, 2005


I taught myself to read when I was three years old. I had two parents who loved to read and let me read almost anything I wanted. When I was five, I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In third grade, we were handed the eighth grade Weekly Reader order forms by mistake, and I ordered 1984 from it. My teacher, whose name I have forgotten, didn't think I should read it and called my parents to tell them what I had done. This turned out to be an interesting conversation for her, ending with my dad saying, "If he wants to read it let him!" and slamming the phone down. Later on, when I was telling the other kids about it, she accused me of lying - in front of the class - and said there was no way I could have read it.

I did a book report on it. I'm not saying the book report was a work of genius. In fact, I think I basically focused on the whole rats-chewing-off-the-face punishment Winston Smith almost underwent. But it did prove I read the book. It also led to my getting quite the reputation at that school and ended in me going through a teenage rebellion in seventh grade, skipping classes and the like, but that's another story.

I read Stephen King in eighth grade (Pet Sematery, bought by my mom in a local grocery store) and used to get my allowance in books and comics. I remember in tenth grade the other kids were talking about what they wanted for Christmas and asked me my list. I said "It", by Stephen King. They looked at me like I had said unicorn burgers and a side order of griffin fries.

So when I read this report from U.S. News and World Report, it had the same reaction I felt back then - near-total lack of surprise over the lack of readers and total lack of understanding why.

Look at how low the bar was set for "pleasure reading" - one short story in a teen magazine. Do teen magazines even HAVE short stories might be another question to ask here, though, but regardless, the bar was set about at "stunted arthritic ant" level.

50% of 18-24 year olds didn't meet this bar. One out of two people in that group didn't read anything for pleasure. I mean, come on!

You know if they don't read for pleasure they probably don't read for information, so they're relying on what others think for their facts. A entire age group being intellectually intravenously fed the views of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, James Carville and Molly Ivins and accepting it as gospel truth. Or their college professors. Or their friends.

I know people complain about the lack of thinkers out there now, usually when someone dares to disagree with the complainer's view. But here we could have an entire generation that may not think at all beyond what they're told, ready to vote and talk and argue and scream and get on call radio shows and be in charge. It's a recipe for hyper-partisanship, since it's easy and doesn't require any neuronal activity to say, "I'm a Democrat/Republican, and whatever they say is what is right." Why think? Let others do it for've got better things to do!

How about this for a fear - what if one day, thanks to those people who allow their gray matter to be rented to the loudest pontifactor, we look back and Rush Limbaugh/Ann Coulter/James Carville/Molly Ivins and think, "If only people were that moderate now."

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