RevJeremy pointed out, “Unfortunately for there isn't a well paying job that I know of that doesn't require the skills acquired through reading.” I don't know about the “unfortunately” part. I think communication is a good thing! But it is very unfortunate that it's so hard to get students to believe this, and to feel like it's worth investing any of their time in developing these skills. On the other hand, so many people with job experience say the same thing as Jeremy: You must be able to communicate effectively to be good at your job, no matter what that job is. You don't have to love writing just for the sake of writing. But you have to know how to get your ideas across and make sure everyone is on the same page.
If that's so important, and so many employers and employees agree, then why is it so hard to get students on board?
Jeremy also pointed out that I might be drawing a false conclusion, equating the bookstores closing with less reading. He suggests, “It could be a sign that the marketplace is changing and that expensive brick and mortar stores are downsizing because they no longer have the luxury of smashing out their smaller competitors because of their lack of a distribution network.” As a solution, he also offers the idea that “Maybe there is a niche to be filled here, a way to marry social media and literature.”
I think Jeremy brings up a very real shortcoming in my own argument: Do I think that reading only counts if it's ink on paper? What about online literary journals and newspapers and magazines? What about blogs?!? What about Tweets? Do those count?
This question relates to Steve's sympathetic comment, “It is sad that young people don't read. It's impacted the newspaper business. Circulation among the major dailies has dropped in many [cities] here in the USA. This leads to an uninformed citizenry. They have themselves to blame with the leaders they choose.” Can we automatically equate lower newspaper circulation with an uninformed citizenry? Or are those two distinct issues? I will be honest: I never buy newspapers. I get my news online or on the radio. Could I be better informed? Quite probably? Am I uninformed? I wouldn't go that far … but of course, who would be willing to admit to such a state?
A student just turned in a research paper last week about the pros and cons of social media. On the one hand, he said that research shows kids who use social media are more literate and better writers. On the other hand, they're more at risk for ADHD and other ill effects of too much screen time (lack of exercise, etc). So, which is more important?
When I encourage students (or anyone) to read … I have to be honest. I imagine browsing in a bookstore or library, picking out a book that catches my eye, and curling up on the couch with it. Beckett's snuggled at my feet, if I'm really lucky the cat is in my lap, and I'm turning pages, engrossed in the story.
But even though that's my ideal situation, that really isn't my focus. I'm not trying to make everyone read Books. But I do want everyone to see the pleasure of reading, particularly the mind-expanding joys of challenging reading. Reading articles or short stories or weighty tomes that make you really think. That make you re-examine your feelings about life, love, happiness, relationships, responsibility, and more. Texts that clarify your own thoughts, that help you know yourself better and be able to articulate your beliefs.
Literacy—reading and writing—should be about communication. It should be about enjoyment. It should be about provoking thought. My concern is that, right now, many of my students and others don't see literacy as doing any of these things. They just see it as an unwelcome, worthless chore. And that's what concerns me much more than the state of big chain bookstores or newspaper circulation.