The clock’s digital display glowed 2:13 a.m. I was pulling yet another one of my infamous all-nighters at the TECH Center.
I sat in Starbucks, nursing a non-fat pumpkin spice latte and reclining in a cozy armchair with my feet propped up on a nearby ottoman. The haunting, melancholy voice of Norah Jones was blaring in the background. I tuned it out and flipped open my dog-eared copy of John Hersey’s “Hiroshima.” The year became 1945 and I was instantly transported 7,000 miles away to a war-torn Japan.
Suddenly, I was rudely jolted out of my private reverie. “I hate reading,” said a patron to my left, who was angrily leafing through a tattered copy of “The Republic,” Plato’s classical masterpiece.
“This is such a waste of time,” he spat. With an air of finality, he closed the book, tossed it unceremoniously into his backpack, said goodbye to his friends and stalked out.
I glanced down at my own book. Was I really “wasting my time” by reading it? I thought of my bookshelf at home.
Crammed with volumes both old and new, it stands nearly a foot taller than I do. Had I “wasted” my childhood and adolescence by avidly collecting and reading the contents of that bookshelf?
Sadly, the common answer today would probably be: Yes. The appreciation of literature is on the decline in the U.S. Despite the best efforts of mega-selling authors like Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling, gross book sales are still plummeting.
Still, the number of published books soared during the past decade even as sales fell. That changed in 2005. The number of books released last year dropped to 172,000.
A report released by the National Endowment
for the Arts said the number of non-reading
adults increased by 17 million between 1992 and 2002. Readership among young people aged 18 to 24 is waning at an especially dismal rate, the NEA study found. I find this anti-literary epidemic to be devastating. And I will admit it – I am a bibliophile.
I worship books. I was that weird, quiet kid who spent grade school recess sitting in the shade of an oak tree with a bespectacled nose buried deep in a book of fairy tales. I was that awkward teenager who stayed in on Friday nights to curl up in bed with the latest “Sweet Valley High” book.
To me, libraries and bookstores are like treasure troves just waiting to be explored. And literary characters were not only my mentors, they were my best friends. Holden Caulfield kept me from growing up too quickly. I can thank Sherlock Holmes for my strong sense of journalistic skepticism.
That poor, naked emperor warned me against being too gullible. The Rainbow Fish showed me the joys of sharing. And Peter Pan taught me that, if I put my mind to it, I can fly. But in this digital day and age, I am riding a doomed dinosaur. Television and the Internet wield a totalitarian dictatorship over modern mass media.
Traditional reading has officially become obsolete. It’s a small wonder that improper grammar usage and poor writing are rampant on college campuses across the nation. How can we speak English well and be good writers if we can’t draw inspiration from great literature?
But literature is boring, you say? I have sailed the seven seas with peg-legged pirates. I have floated around the world in a colorful hot-air balloon. I have excavated Egyptian tombs filled with dazzling riches.
I have mingled with beret-wearing bohemians on the streets of Paris. I am a reader. Can you say the same? No? Then what are you waiting for? Pick up a book. Read!
Venuri Siriwardane can be reached at email@example.com.