In Sunday's Boston Globe, Dana Gioia addresses the disturbing decline in reading and literacy , especially among young people in the 18-24 year old demographic group.
Let's face it. We're living in a time when great books are considered dispensible. Even the educated feel no stigma in admitting they can't remember the last book they read, or that the only novel they've picked up in five years was the ubiquitous DaVinci Code. In fact, there might even be a certain cachet in being too busy or too technologically oriented for the quiet pleasure a book affords. And yet, I can think of at least five good reasons why literature--the unique gifts of a great book--are more necessary than ever.
1. A great book deepens our understanding of ourselves. As we journey with a well drawn character through whatever challenge the author has created, we are forced to conjure the choices and adaptations that we would make in similar circumstances; as the character grows through adversity or triumph, we undergo a vicarious expansion of self.
2. A great book erases otherness and is thus a bridge to peace. Once you've entered the mind and heart of a skilled writer from a distant country, or any group that you fear or misunderstand, it becomes increasingly difficult to think of that person as an enemy.
3. A great book insinuates its syntax and vocabulary mysteriously into your brain, expanding your own powers of expression.
4. A great book grows the imagination in a way that the more visual mediums never can. When you read, you build a stage in your mind, then populate it with actors. While you sit in utter silence on the beach, you allow the actors to move across that stage, and recreate the ancient dramas and emotions that form our humanity. Thus, reading is a highly interactive experience. It is not an overstatement to say that any greatness we've achieved as a society, we owe in large part to our creativity and imagination as a people.
5. A great book stops time and teaches self-sufficiency, and the pleasure of being alone. It removes you from the swirl and tumult so that when you close the book and return, you will see more clearly, hear more vividly, understand more deeply.
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