I read, have read, and will read the rest of my cognitive life. I can not fathom not being able to read. I am not "formally" educated. I did not care for and did not fare well at traditional schooling, however I do consider myself a very well educated individual. That education, along with a lifetime of observations and experiences, constitutes my education level. Not a rationalization, not an excuse, just a fact. I do wish I had a sheepskin or two framed on my wall. Shame on me for opportunities wasted. But I read, therefore, to a great degree, I am who I am.
Two things in the news this week have me thinking about reading in general and my reading in particular.
One, there are disconcerting reports around the financial viability of Barnes & Noble. Sales for the last quarter are down double digits and the company plans on closing up to fifteen stores a year in the future. Particularly troubling considering the recent bankruptcy and closure of the Borders enterprise. I believe B&N to be the last standing national chain bookstore. On a personal level, because I spend over half my time in various cities traveling for business, B&N has become a home away from home for me. I don't go to bars, rarely to movies, and other than a park or my hotel room I can usually be found sitting in an overstuffed chair with a book or browsing the aisles at the local Barnes & Noble. I can get a coffee or an iced tea and I can peruse books on any number of topics, books I may or may not choose to ultimately purchase. I have researched my travels, read new authors to determine if I want them on my list of must reads, and in general productively and enjoyably passed hours and hours of time that would otherwise be spent not doing much of anything. Except maybe reading in my hotel room.
Recently while visiting my father he asked my how many books I thought I had read in my lifetime. While I do not know the anser to that question with any degree of certainty it got me to doing some calculations. I know I started reading regularly and frequently before I was ten when my parents would take us religiously to the public library year round and there were also books available in the school libraries. Six to seven books a month doesn't seem out of the question on average so over a half a century plus, that would be something around four thousand. That seems light, I don't know. I would say it's more than that.
But that's just books. There are newspapers, magazines, and of couse for the past dozen years or so the internet. Ah yes, the internet. I could not begin to calculate how many articles, news stories, etc. I have read on the internet. As a matter of fact technology has reshaped just how I read. E-books; I've read and still have on my devices many and still download a couple a month. And then there are audiobooks. I very much enjoy audiobooks. That are wonderful for travel. On nearly all of my dozens and dozens of trips to and from Canada I've listened to audiobooks. I have my favorite narrators and fortunately they read some of my favorite authors. I've taken over five hundred flights in the past four years and during the majority of that time I'm either reading the written word or listening to the spoken. Sometimes it's nice to lay my head back with a pair of noise cancelling headphones and rest the eyes and listen. At my age my eyes tire quicker than my ears. And they are free at the library. I download them to my computer and then to my phone or ipad.
And then there is work. Forty years of charts and graphs and blueprints and emails and business letters, purchase orders, technical data, on and on.
My wife reads (I think even more than I do), my children read, my mother and her father read. I was read to and read to my children. I think that is the beginning for a reader, being read to when young.
So where will people go to buy books if Barnes & Noble closes? There are independent bookstores but they are far and few between and do we really want to have our choices reduced to the commercial pap we see at every airport newstand and drugstore? Walmart? The same ten authors who churn out the same template over and over. I swear James Patterson must write one a week.
My tastes have matured over the years. I don't waste my time on some of the tripe I read in my younger days. I'm much more selective. I want the well turned phrase, thinking man's words, provocative and lyrical. A well plotted story at least, something that takes me down a path I want to go. I love when a sentence stops me in my tracks and makes me wish I had written it.
But I did say that there were two things that have me thinking about reading this week. The second was the death of Elmore Leonard, one of my all time favorite authors. You may know the name, you may not. You would recognize some of his books that have been turned into movies. He was 87 and his passing makes me sad, selfishly knowing I will never read anything from him again (except for the rereading which I have already done and I'm sure will do some more of). I've been reading him for around forty years. It's like losing a friend.
I wanted to know some facts about illiteracy so I found the chart below. It's mind boggling. Try to imagine this many people who can't read street signs, menus, newspapers, their mail...
It must make an already sometimes overwhelming world all that much more foreign and confusing. I can not begin to envision how different my life would have been and would be now without the comprehension and pure joy of the written word.
To those elementary school teachers during my early years, I've woefully underestimated you contribution to my life's productiviey, knowledge, and enjoyment. Bless you for opening these magic doors.
|Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy|
|Research Date: 4.28.2013|
|U.S. Illiteracy Statistics||Data|
|Percent of U.S. adults who can’t read||14 %|
|Number of U.S. adults who can’t read||32 Million|
|Percent of U.S. adults who read below a 5th grade level||21 %|
|Percent of prison inmates who can’t read||63 %|
|Percent of high school graduates who can’t read||19 %|
|Number of people worldwide who can’t read||774 Million|
|Percent of the worlds illiterate who are female||66 %