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Thursday, April 30, 1998 Published at 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK



Talking Point

Is the art of reading dead? Your reaction

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I know the "art of reading" isn't dead, but I do feel that it is in decline. This is due to parents finding it easier to interest children with videos and video games rather than spending the time reading to them or trying to get them interested in books. We may notice a more rapid decline in books being read when today's children become tomorrow's adults.
Paul Gibson-Hodges, England

Reading will never be dead as long as one person regularly cracks open a book. The people who don't read regularly are only hurting themselves.
Steven Knox, USA

The young people of my acquaintance appear to be reading less. I believe the blame lies with computer games; the hours spent with these brain-deadening things reduce the time available for books. I'm trying to get my 12-year-old son to read Treasure Island but he is constantly diverting to his games console. Schools should inculcate in young teenagers a stronger awareness of the joys of good literature. However, increasing participation in third level education means that readership levels are increasing - and once the reading bug gets to you it's hard to lose!
John O'Byrne, Dublin, Ireland

Anyone who sits in front of a computer is still reading! Book sales are up so obviously we are a more literate world than ever before. Unless of course, the same one million people are buying all the newest publications! This is just a "Salem" tactic to scare up the more radical amongst us.
Susan Lunn, USA

The 'Art' of reading lives as it always has, among those who enjoy using their skill. The 'Skill' of reading may just one sad day die, but as long as there are words to fill screens such as this before me, it should at least survive beyond 'the book'.
Janet Callender, UK

Death sounds so severe. Let's say our time-management skills need refining. The most common excuses in this argument are lack of time and money. I believe that the most powerful item in anyone's wallet is the library card. It doesn't require batteries, instruction manuals, or passwords to access all types of media. Yes, I have to mind the library hours and yes, finding what you want is not instantaneous. Surely, one hasn't forgotten in this digital age that when we "web browse," we are essentially strolling through the subjects? An author, title or subject may suddenly pique our interest. Tactile and curious as I am, I leaf through the pages and gauge whether I am the first to read this book. Who says that reading is solitary? We would be remiss if we couldn't find time to read a bed-time story to our children or teach them the very same skills we're dreading to lose.
Heru Mafudi, USA

As a person with a full-time day job and taking a full course load of University credits at night (in Literature) it is hard to find the time to read for "pleasure". But one must make that time. If reading really means something to someone don't turn on the TV; don't log-on. We must promote reading in our youngsters. Illiteracy where someone cannot read is a terrible thing, as is alliteracy, where one can read but doesn't.
Karen Patricia Welch, America

I know quite a few people who read on a regular basis. Although I do admit I spend more time on the computer or watching TV than reading, and these two distracting elements do reduce the volume of reading I do. I think reading is a threatened activity though, for the more complex our lives are becoming, a person must make sacrifices and reading oftentimes is amongst one of the first sacrifices made.
Stephen Kenney, USA

Language has both sounds and figures. Each has a different role in understanding something, I think. For example, Japanese has three different types of writing style. Each has its own histories and characters. Sophisticated usage of these three types of style expresses something that cannot be expressed by sounds. So, I think reading still has its special worth.
Mitsutaku Makino, Kyoto, Japan

I get the impression that there are many more places to buy books now; train stations and supermarkets for instance. I'd guess this is because more people are reading. The fact that much of what people are reading is trash is no surprise. Most films and TV are trash; trash is always popular. Not that many people find War And Peace relaxing. I believe that reading helps mental dexterity. The better literature you read the better your mental dexterity becomes.
I disagree with another poster who says that film is more intellectual. A film is all over in a hundred minutes and the maker necessarily has to be selective and cater for the mass of filmgoers themselves. The film cannot be objective in its interpretation of the text. When a reader has just words to work with s/he has to imagine the whole scene; weather, light, faces, expressions, posture etc etc. Also, a book will normally take a lot more than a hundred minutes to read and the reader can analyse what is going on over that longer period and get a lot more from the exercise. My favourite? Great Expectations - Charles Dickens.
Colin Gaunt, UK

The art of reading is alive and well as far as I'm concerned (just devoured two Patricia Cornwell novels in the last 48 hours before settling down to a more sobering Carl Sagan.) I agree that the focus has to be on kids - not just inducing them to read but ensuring that that reading is stimulating, if not exciting. My 9-year-old daughter resisted all my attempts to get her interested in books until I read a simplified version of the Odyssey to her (she was surprised that it was Odysseus and not Hercules - as the Disney film claims - who blinded the cyclops). She was so enthralled by what has to be one of the classic adventure stories of all time that she now wants to read the full-length version. It's too bad there aren't more "children's writers" like Homer.
Sabrina Gledhill, Brazil

By dumbing-down print products in all English-speaking countries, the PR/advertising designers of consent have extracted so much meaning from newspapers, magazines and books that the business is almost dead. The only reason for looking at books these days is to see what brand of tabloid nonsense is in vogue.
Tom O'Hanlon, USA

I do not feel that reading is dead and I see evidence of reading every day. Two examples are: 1) I travel to work on a bus and a number of people read books or newspapers travelling to work. 2) I go to the library about twice a week and there are a good number of people in there using the facility. For the record I try and read a complete book once a week and I know of at least one more person who tries to do this too. So no, the art of reading certainly is not and will never be dead.
John Nelson, Great Britain

Books and computers can complement each other. I am currently reading two non-fiction works on the Middle East, use Microsoft's Encarta (a CD encyclopedia) to supplement my book learning, and use my computer to read from a half dozen or so internet editions of newspapers from around the world. As a 72-year old retiree, what you read is much more important than how much you read. Makes sense?
Bill Francis, USA

I love reading but tend to only have time for magazines and internet articles/e-mail at present due to time constraints. I buy technical books more than fiction and have quite a lot of those.
Carol Bowler, UK

Absolutely not! Nothing beats relaxing with a good book in a favourite easy chair. Try that with a computer!
Joe Canan, USA

Reading is alive and well. Technology will soon allow us to carry smaller versions of books around, but we'll still be reading.
John Pappas, USA

Reading is certainly not "dead". Walk down any high street and you will find that almost every store has some form of written material in it, whether it be a comic, catalogue, newspaper, book, magazine, or something else. The book provides one with the tools to use one's imagination in a way no TV programme could ever do! I think it is probable that in the future more people will take to reading things off their computer screens. I myself do this. Nevertheless, I don't think anything will ever beat sitting down with a book you are really into!
People will always read books; just as England will always have a Queen. We may think it anachronistic, out-dated and worse, but it will always, always, always go on!
Aidan Neal, United Kingdom

No, reading is not dead. I regularly read excellent factual books and learn a lot in the process. Why do we see computers as a threat though? There is excellent reading/educational material on the Internet and it's relatively cheap. I see this as supplementing books rather than as a threat. I think we'll all be curling up with a laptop computer in the future. Books will be sold on disk or downloaded from the Internet rather than in printed form. They won't look so good on bookshelves though!
Barry Miller, UK

I read books all the time - it broadens your vocabulary.
Bryan Vaughan, UK

If I don't read for an hour a day I get depressed!
Tony Guntrip, UK

Reading is still alive and well. The internet is highly text-oriented and low thresholds for producing documents at work (email, word processors) mean that reading is still a vital part of our lives even if it is not predominantly the reading of books. What I think is important is the nature of that reading. Any rise in reading 'on-line' is mainly functional information (work, instructions, hard information). I think there is indeed a decrease in 'recreational' reading where there is such direct competition with TV and new media. Levels will decline to a plateau. Just as the TV did not spell the death of the radio no new media will spell the death of the book (and readers may be interested that I am reading on-line while eating my lunch).
Ion Barfield, Netherlands

Of course it is not dead. Sure, reading books requires to some degree a certain level of peace within and around you which is not always at hand. But the intellectual experience makes it second best to any other type of arts. Therefore it is worth the effort. Nothing can replace it.
Lazar Ferenc, Hungary

I certainly don't consider reading to be dead. Reading for me is a form of relaxation, escapism and information. Whilst both the television and the computer have their important place in society, neither can replace the art of reading. You can hardly slip a TV into your bag to read on a train nor can you curl up and relax with a computer. It's of no surprise to me that Britain's book market is booming.
Julie Park, England

I don't think there was ever an 'art' to reading. The more time children spend on computers, the further they become integrated with a new medium that already is an integral part of our culture. I don't see why everyone is getting so upset.
Mathieu Skene, UK

It is a shame these days that a question such as this has to be asked. Some of the greatest discoveries have been made by reading the works of others. I guess it is a sad reflection of the times that people of the 18-23 age group struggle to read. Is it right that the future of this or any other country be left in the hands of people who are unprepared to face the challenges of such simple tasks as reading and writing. It is a reflection on the level of education today. The Internet is a great learning tool, (so said Bill Gates), but if the people can not read the information that is included on the millions of web pages, what is the point of having this world wide information source?
Graham Armstrong, England

The art of reading is far from dead. I am constantly running across people and organisations that are active readers and writers. I did not actively seek out these groups. The rise of the Internet has also renewed the act of reading. Although the reading done on the Internet is not via a bound book, it is reading nonetheless. I have read more since getting online. More sources of news and information are freely available, on the Internet, than through any other media.
Beth Yousef, USA

The art of reading has not been dead, but it is dying. My view is generalised from the fact that more and more people nowadays are merely interested in reading sensational reports or materials which do not need any serious thinking.
H H Lau, Taiwan, ROC

I love reading and just the thought of getting rid of my books in order to watch the telly or surf on the Internet make me laugh! I would never do that!
I learnt how to read as a six-year old, before I began school. That is pretty early in Sweden. Now, at 17, I read at least three books per month, when I don't have too much schoolwork to do. I know of people my age that don't read at all (a friend of a friend doesn't even know what a book is, according to the rumours), but that's not very common. We read a lot of books at school too - I think we've read four books in Swedish and at least one in English since September '97. Many of my friends moan about the mandatory books, but I think it's great that we can read books our teachers have chosen for us as we get to know other books beside the best sellers.
I've got a suggestion for you Brits - if you think your children don't read as much as they should, why don't you do what the Swedish government did - on World Book Day they gave all students in Upper Secondary school a small book with two short stories in it. Many younger pupils got a book about books. My conclusion is that the art of reading isn't dead as long as people around the world buy and read books! And, trust me, they DO!
Helene Frössling, Sweden

There have always been people who prefer not to read. I know my friends and I read a great deal. With television so prevalent, however, it is more important to impress on our children that reading can be an enjoyable activity and not just something one has to do for school.
Mary Ann Gareis, USA

In a world of disposable information, I think people are inclined to return to reading, searching for a sense of solidity not found on TV or on the world wide web. Bookstores in New York appear to bustle; and though the smaller, "speciality" stores are failing, the larger chain stores continue to flourish. Even though I enjoy a fairly steady diet of TV, and work rather long hours, I still try to read a book a week. I might give up a few hours sleep each week, but it's worth it.
Jeff Dodson, United States

Reading isn't dead, but novels are. Books and print are for reference only (try using a CD-ROM manual and find out for yourself how hard it is to flick between three pages in different chapters).
Novels are inferior to film and TV in many ways. Most importantly, novels are far less intellectually challenging than films. In a book, the narrator has to provide all the relevant information straight out. For instance, "She felt tired," or "He was acting suspiciously". In a film or TV show, these subjective assessments are left to the viewer. Is she really tired or is she just acting tired for another reason? Who is that in the background acting suspiciously? Is that just an extra or is it an important character who has yet to be introduced?
Novels, TV and film all pale into insignificance when compared to a good graphic adventure game (totally different from point-and-shoot games). Not only can important details be hidden in the scene, but adventure games also allow the story to change every time.
Educational advisors, who are used to being passive onlookers of books, films and TV, often criticise computer games as "rotting the brain". But when challenged to provide evidence, have none. Most of these so-called experts are simply too elderly, stuck in their ways and even afraid to take on the mental challenges of playing an active part in a story. They're used to having the story told to them, like a child in bed. With adventure games, one has to have the strength of mind to create one's own story, sadly lacking in the elderly generation - the "passive" generation.
Andrew Oakley, UK

With each new medium, we declare the old ones dead. Yet, they live on.
P Bailey, Canada

The media itself has done a lot to promote books and reading - e.g. various web-site programmes on TV and this very discussion. Books are more accessible now than they have ever been, and people who don't read probably never would have anyway!
Sheena Billett, UK

The phrase "art of reading" in one sense implies the ability and inclination to read mind-stretching material. These days there are precious few people who do that sort of reading.
John Andersen, US

Quite to the contrary. Reading is alive and well. Look about at the waiting rooms, bus stops, airline terminals; it seems like everyone is reading. I think the issue may be that what everyone is reading is less than acceptable to our High School Literature teacher.
Malinda Sund, USA

Not only are fewer people reading, but those who are reading take up low-complexity stuff, devoid of artistry, i.e. John Grisham, Tom Clancy. Good stories all, but they'll never reach the word subtleties of Maugham, Joyce, or Ondaatje.
Bryan Price, Canada

I do not think that the art of reading is dead. I say this from personal experience. As the executive director for the Diana Princess of Wales International Law Institute, I have seen the redevelopment of reading in a new format. Now reading is in an unusual delivery; the internet. With the internet, books are able to be read and seen; but actually, are still located on the shelves of the library. In my field of research and of involvement, there is not one library that contains the power of the internet. The internet has become the library of the new century. As long as the ability of communication advances, so will man's ability to redevelop, reclassify, and redesign the ways of communication. To be honest, there is not one library that contains information for everything from A to Z like the internet. From the earliest character known as a letter on parchment to keyboarding on computer, the development and redevelopment of those tools continues to impact society.
Richard W McCullough, USA

I have read four books in the last six weeks and am starting the fifth in addition to the news I read on-line and in papers and magazines. People with enquiring minds will always read. Seeing a film is a bit like eating food someone else chewed for you; it's easy but you just don't get the full effect.
Chris Hann, USA

No, the art of reading is definitely not dead. I read a couple of books a week due to the internet and modern technology. I can now read papers daily all over the world. I read the BBC news daily, The Times, NY Times, papers in Canada, South Africa and so on. I visit BBC Education every other day with my grandson who is seven, and we read the children's news and find out about all the latest books that might interest us. Plus we manage to visit the local library every third week, and come out with an armful of books. So if anything we read far more than we ever did. People who do not bother to read much, probably never have. They just have other interests.
Jean, Canada

I'm a teacher, and our children read as much, if not more, today as they have ever done. Admittedly, some of the reading is done from electronic sources, but they are still practising the art of reading!
Geoff Wickens, England

You still can't 'read' a computer under the bedclothes by torchlight!
Cathy Costain, Egypt

I do not think that it is dead yet. But we are facing the possibility, as shown by Britannica who have gone to cd-rom because of the reduced popularity of the book form. They still produce books but I fear it is only a matter of time before books as we know them become extinct.
Amanda Blood, Britain

I am 22 years old and haven't read a novel for more than 1 year. I strongly believe that reading a book for leisure will be perceived in about 20 years as either a waste of time or as a luxury. I cannot emphasise enough that this will not be a result of intellectual mass degradation, but simply because tomorrow's working environment will force professionals to read more (on screen) than ever before in the history of humanity.
Many people think that the Art of thinking stands in direct relation to the Art of reading. I don't think so. The ART of reading will mostly disappear. But on the other hand our children will develop new ways of synthesising a large amount of information to reach wise decisions.
Reda Borchardt, Luxembourg

What am I doing on this website if it's not reading? I read books, I watch TV, but I use the internet to find information I want to read about, without having to go to the bookshop. On the contrary to stopping people reading, the internet encourages it.
Rachel Hindley, England

I would have to say that the World Book Day and Year have come too late!! Television as well as computers could well be said to be the drugs of our nation. Long ago the sacred dinner table was pronounced dead, due to the fact that the favourite television series coincided with the organised meal. From the minute that television becomes a source of entertainment, then books and the art of reading are morbidly doomed. "Why read a book....they'll only make a film out of it....". This type of argument is rife. The statistic of only one in seven adults having not read a book in a year is disgusting. Books bring characters more to life than television ever could. I believe that an advert for a book store encompassed the true beauty of books; "You can take a book anywhere, and vice versa"...how true!!!!
Keith Dyer, Scotland

Reading is not and will not die simply because there is only one way to travel through time, talk to people long gone and attempt to understand their experiences and develop a shared, common wisdom. The way to do this is to read a good book. Narrative cannot be competed against by the computer or the TV. They just cannot cut it. The book's role will decrease however and become more defined in our culture. Most people will probably not read books in the far future. But some always will! Vive le libre - Vive sagesse!
Al Tepper M.Phil. (Publishing Studies), UK

Reading has never died for me-I was introduced to the classics at an early age and still turn to them at every opportunity. I started reading Jane Austen at age 13 and have read each of her books at least once a year since (I'm now 39). They key is not just to get people hooked on reading at an early age; it is to get them hooked on reading good books. These are the stories that stay with us forever.
Dr Donna J Nincic, USA

This is a qualified no. There are so many competing media now that I find my time and desires constantly coming under pressure. I always have several books on the go, but also wish to watch television, listen to the radio, use the net and just plain relax. I feel that my children probably do read less than I did at their age - but then they are far more advanced than I was anyway.
Peter Lovett, UK

I find that with the ever-increasing torrent of information that has to be scanned, then categorised and summarised, reading for pleasure at a leisurely pace is now more appreciated.
Tom Bowshall, Australia

With the price of books held so artificially high in the UK it's not surprising that reading is on a downslide. Whatever happens we MUST protect our libraries from closing, and give the majority of the public - who now cannot afford to buy a paperback - a chance to read.
Tim Bloomfield, UK

The art of reading is definitely not dead. It is of course being killed gradually by the very high prices of books. We, in this part of the world, find it almost impossible to buy a book printed in the UK or in the USA because of the very high prices. To keep the reading habit alive, books should be marketed at much cheaper prices. India is a good example to follow in this respect.
Mr MEPL Perera, Sri Lanka

Tapping information from the www; doesn't that involve a lot of reading, too? Apart from that it is conceivable that those who are used to reading are reading more and the "non readers" are reading less.
R vanWitsen, NL

Books are too expensive, and environmentally wasteful as an information delivery system. While I enjoy reading books, as soon as I can get an electronic book that is cheap and reliable I'll switch. Already I don't bother with newspapers using the internet, radio and TV instead. However giving the shift away from paper-based reading material I'll continue to read; it just won't be a book. I accept that many other people don't read, having switched to TV (which is awful here in the US) or radio.
Adam, US

After 23 and ½ years teaching in the k-12 schools here and in the Community College on Monday nights since 1980 I find Harold Bloom is correct in his massive work THE WESTERN CANON. Reading is dead and no-one seems to mind. I find this distressing, but like most other literate people I have learned to keep most of what I discover by reading "to myself". Not long ago one of my scholars said "All you have are words". This was actually meant as a criticism!
I shall continue to read but I do not expect many or even any, really, to join in with me. In this regard I believe TE Lawrence made the right decision in aborting his attempt to bring the world into civilised concord and working on his own personal growth. I shall seek to influence as many as possible to read. However, in a word, the answer to the question posed to your readers is, 'Dead - it is'. The obvious next question, 'may we hope for a resurrection?'
Steve Gunter, USA

Though the advent of TV among other technologies have pulled many of us from reading, I believe the art of reading is not dead... It is EVOLVING!! Indeed, I do much of my reading of the News, Biblical Scripture, and other inquires of personal and /or world issues, on the Internet every day. Reading has a way of taking us away from our dire realities. Even if the characters of which you read, live lives more painful then yourselves, it is a relief to be away from your own pains.
Amadeus, Haiti

Alive, personally. Trying to find the time to read all the books that interest me is the question - and the problem. As to my family, friends and acquaintances, I would say that the majority of them read regularly. Books are my favourite gifts to people, particularly since you can match the person to the book, or vice versa.
Arvo Marits, Canada, currently in Estonia

It is not dead, but well and alive, particularly in most children. Whilst I would agree that there is stiff competition from other media such as television and computers, books continue to have their place in everyday life. The art of reading does require the occasional 'shot-in-the-arm' such as that provided by World Book Day, or other promotions such as book weeks held in schools and public libraries. The reaction of children where I work to an influx of new fiction is a perfect demonstration of (most) children's love for books, but there are some who will always dislike the labour of reading. Demands on time, particularly in the teens, from exams and the like, often make teenagers turn away from books to get quick and easy 'fixes' from the television and computers. But many return to reading at 17 or 18 as they become accustomed to their workload. Reading is alive!
Andrew Hynes, England

I read more now than I ever did. Access to information and a wider range of reading matter in recent years has contributed towards this. Even though much 'reading' takes place on the internet, this also tends to generate hard copy reading matter directly and indirectly, and also provides information about getting hold of 'books'. There will always be a need for books in addition to other forms of written material. I read fiction every day - but do not watch TV or videos. It's not a replacement for books. There may of course be a kind of polarisation going on with people like me reading more, and others reading less because they use computer games, TV etc. But this is a guess and I don't know how you could research this issue effectively.
J Hemsley-Brown, UK

Actually I'm reading more than ever before. Times change however. A lot of what I read is now on the computer.
Charlie Rountree, USA

Throughout most of my life I have read about a book a week until two years ago when I began competetive internet game playing. Since then the amount of time I watch TV has dropped and I rarely ready a book at all now. I simply don't have the time. I would only buy a book now if I knew for sure I'd enjoy it and the author was a particular favourite.
I also think children are 'put off' reading by schools. 'Classics' I am afraid are as dull as dishwater to most kids. Yes they are artistic and rich in prose but I'd rather have children read a book or two of 'pulp' every month than no books at all. I myself read many thrillers and adventure books in my teens and after a while ran out of original stories. So THEN I started reading the 'classics'. Teachers take note.
Roy Matthews, England

I much prefer reading books to computer screens. A good book commands your attention far more than any other media.
Richard Collier, UK





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