Reading Matters

Books in Black Wooden Book ShelfOnce upon a time, the majority of people living in the “West” were illiterate. They couldn’t read or write. Today, in some parts of the world, women risk their lives to go to school. A large percentage of the American population is functionally illiterate.

And some literary critics and literature professors are quite proud to admit that they hate reading!

I taught English last summer to a group of adult Congolese refugees who were pre-literate (that’s the politically correct way of saying that they couldn’t read or write in any language). Women my mother’s age couldn’t even hold a pencil.

If you are able to read my post, you are incredibly privileged. We all are. And yet, so many of us think that reading is a waste of time. Academics write books NO ONE reads, not even their colleagues. Someone admitted in the comments of a booktube video that she never reads classics. Professors are assigning only the books that the students want to read, but what do students want to read? Facebook? Twitter? Nothing?

Ironically, those who are fueling this movement against the teaching of “difficult” literature or the classics are the same people who claim to be the most concerned about privilege. For centuries, a significant portion of the Western population did not have access to books. Those who did, maintained their privilege by fighting against educational reform in their countries. I find it incredibly disturbing that so many intellectuals ridicule reading. I certainly understand the interest in having a more diverse literary canon, but there seems to be a growing apathy surrounding the study of literature. The rising cost of university education and the job market are partly to blame, but most of the apathy or (in some cases) overt animosity comes from those who are in the literature business, so to speak.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Because Americans have access to every kind of food imaginable, over half of it goes to waste. We are used to having everything at our fingertips, so we overlook the fact that what we have is an incredible luxury for hundreds of millions of people around the world. The same can be said about literacy. Many of us take for granted the ability to read and write. We’ve been able to do it for as long as we can remember. As a result, we no longer privilege reading over other forms of knowledge consumption. People can spend their free time doing whatever they want, but I find it disturbing that so many people ridicule reading as somehow beneath them.

If I promote literacy online, I am guaranteed to get a few comments accusing me of being a snob. “You think you are better than others because you read?” No, I don’t. Why do you feel so defensive? If you have forgotten the benefits of reading, I am here to remind you that this is a skill that not many people have. Tyrants control people by limiting their access to education. Literacy has fueled revolutions.

I don’t care what you read as long as you read. Other forms of entertainment are wonderful, but they cannot replace reading. As I write, a girl somewhere in the world is risking her life to read a book.

This post was inspired, in part, by this video by Clifford @ Better than Food: Book Reviews.