Allison's Book Bag

What’s So Great About Books, Anyway?

Posted on: November 22, 2012


Books (Photo credit: henry…)

Allison and I were watching a movie about a widower who opened a public reading room in an inner city neighborhood. In one scene, a little girl asked him if he did anything but read. He said he didn’t.

Our culture holds reading in some degree of esteem. And yet, when it gets right down to it, it’s escapist and passive and anti-social. So why do we value it above things like watching movies or TV shows or playing video games? Where do we rank it compared to going to concerts, plays, and sporting events?

My gut tells me where it belongs, but what does my gut know? I can say that reading is an important life skill. I can say that reading stimulates the imagination. But I could also say that playing Wii with your friends is physical and social, whereas reading is sedentary and solitary.

One could conduct studies, I suppose. Physical and mental attributes could be tested and tracked, and we could know without a doubt which activities are good for us. Bah. There are already too many facts in the world. And often they just tell us what we already know. I know, for instance, that I would rather than my child spend two hours reading than two hours playing video games. But I also know that it’s good for a child to have a variety of interests that include a range of active and passive activities, from sports to crafts to books to, yes, video games.

Maybe the only thing that matters is that we are doing that which makes us happy. Well, yes, but… sometimes we just can’t help ourselves thinking that other people’s activities are a waste of time. But the noble pursuit of literature is not safe from this mindset. By coincidence, Allison and I just watched the episode of The Twilight Zone in which a rabid bookworm happens to be married to a woman who is just as fanatically anti-book. She wants him to talk to her and to spend time with their friends. That doesn’t sound so crazy, does it? And yet when the man survives a nuclear holocaust and stumbles upon the remains of the city library, I rejoice for him. Time enough at last! (This is the name of the episode, in fact.) Alas, the mysterious forces of The Twilight Zone seem to be anti-book as well. If a TV show could give me nightmares, it would be this one.

Is reading a valid use of one’s time or not? Is it better than watching TV? Worse than attending a concert? Worse than climbing a mountain? What is a valid use of one’s time? Is it a waste of time to do what one enjoys?

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