By: Stephen Chartrand
Why should one read for pleasure? It might seem like a silly question that may make your eyes roll, but as someone who appreciates and loves the language, I can’t help but take it seriously. Among educators, parents and book-lovers in general, there is a growing anxiety in Canada that many young people today have little or no interest in literature as a leisurely activity; that is, something we enjoy for its own sake.
If following recent findings however, perhaps we have nothing to worry about. In 2011, the National Reading Campaign completed a “national book count” and published what appeared to be promising findings: on average, Canadians download, purchase, or borrow from libraries, more than 2.7 million books per week. As Canadians, we apparently read a lot of books but the demographics are not encouraging. People born before the massive changes in computer technology and electronic media of the 1990s — the baby boomers — make up the majority of Canadians who enjoy reading for pleasure.
I can’t blame people of my generation. Between reality television shows, high-tech video-games, social networking, burdensome homework, sports and the time we give to friends and family, who has the time to spend a week with George Elliott, Charles Dickens, George Orwell or Marcel Proust? Who has the time for Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, Tolstoy, Alice Munroe and other giants of fiction? Time management is the herculean task of our era but while we’re being honest we might as well admit it: Angry Birds, Call of Duty, American Idol, Jersey Shore, World of Warcraft, Miley Cyrus contorting on stage, however mind-numbing they may be, are just more entertaining. The digital world is at your fingertips (so are books, technically) but you really don’t have to do much to get your kick from it. It’s as simple as that.
Books can be lengthy, they demand your attention and can sometimes be tedious with long lulls before the story grabs your interest and excitement again. Unlike many commentators on this, I have no wish to tell you what you should be doing with your time or to give a long drawn-out list of all the reasons why literature is important and the benefits it offers. As university students, you can probably cite every good reason you were told in high school from memory so I won’t bore you with them.
All I wish to share is why I read for pleasure: it’s something I do for its intrinsic value and hopefully you will feel an added incentive to pick up and read a book more often than you usually do. The late novelist and professor of literature Chinua Achebe expresses my thoughts on this best: “it’s not difficult to identify with somebody like yourself, somebody next door who looks like you. What’s more difficult is to identify with someone you don’t see, who’s very far away, who’s a different colour, who eats a different kind of food. When you begin to do that then literature is really performing its wonders”. Perhaps you will disagree, but if you want to connect with and experience the human spirit when it triumphs or falls victim to its follies, if you want to be challenged by an ethical dilemma or to imagine yourself in someone else’s circumstances, there is no better outlet for your curiosity than literature.