June 27, 2016
What are you planning to do this summer?
The magazine headline was provocative: “The Death of Reading.” Its author – Mitchell Stephens – had a vested interest: he was a journalism professor at New York University. The article appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine – when there was a Los Angeles Times Magazine – on September 22, 1991, 25 years ago.
You can Google the whole treatise, but his summation is found in his subtitle: Will a nation that stops reading eventually stop thinking?
You don’t have to guess the answer to his rhetorical question: we’ve seen it portrayed by Jesse Waters – the pop-up host of Water’s World (Fox)… and in the passionate crowds affirming everything from Bernie to Brexit. Reading refines thinking, and thoughtful people act differently.
The reasoned follow-up question to incomprehensible actions is seldom asked, or answered: “What were you thinking?” The unfortunate conclusion, if that dialog ever took place? What passes as “thinking” today is abysmal, at best.
The decline of reading can be tracked by an objective metric: the reading scores in the College Board’s SAT are absolutes. The steady erosion has continued for a generation: “The decline in SAT scores has a lot to do with not reading,” asserts former College Board President Donald M. Stewart. Why? “The ability to read is linked to the ability to process, analyze and comprehend information,” Stewart explains. “I guess that’s called thinking.”
Some people use them as doorstops; for others, they’re paperweights. Decorators use them to furnish model homes; garage sales use them as 50¢ loss-leaders; frustrated party-goers use them as last-ditch birthday gift options: if books were animate, they’d probably be suffering from a wide-spread identity crisis. Books are like cockroaches: they’re everywhere, but no one knows what to do with them.
I can’t wait for July 12th; I’ve already placed my order for a copy of Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed, by Douglas Axe. A former engineer, then molecular-biologist, Axe now writes with reasoned insight that Darwin’s theory of evolution has had a gaping hole at its center from the beginning. The intent of his book: “Armed with confidence, readers will affirm what once seemed obvious to all of us: that living creatures – from single-celled cyanobacteria to orca whales and human beings – are brilliantly conceived, utterly beyond the reach of accident. Our intuition was right all along…”
From Stephen’s article, a quarter century ago: “Ironically, but not coincidentally, reading has begun fading from our culture at the very moment that its importance to that culture is finally being established. Its decline, many theorists believe, is as profound as, say, the fall of communism, and some have taken to prophesying that the downturn in reading could result in the modern world’s cultural and political decline…”
That was the state of the intellectual union 25 years back: are we further down that race to ignorance, or have we turned the corner back to a reasoned world of thoughtful progress?
Here’s a wild thought: use some of your vacation time this summer to read a book. Here’s a great starter: written by Indian philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi: The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization. How about a book, about The Book, to make the point?
God; the Son of God; the Word of God. Without that progression of revelation, you’ll never know the Truth.
Don’t come back to work on Labor Day unless you’ve read a book. That’s an order…