Read What You Want, When You Want

Samantha Giffin is finishing up her Master’s degree in Professional Writing at UMass Dartmouth. Her professional interests include screenwriting, Gothic literature and teaching. In the next year she hopes to enter PhD program in Creative Writing.

I recently had the opportunity to watch a portion of a Frontline interview with Marc Prensky, a man with an English Literature degree. In this five minute video, Prensky argues that the reading of books is no longer inherently necessary. He puts down the classic written word (i.e. novels) in favor of video, blogs, and songs. But at the very end of the interview he says, “You have to discover [how to read books for pure enjoyment] for yourself, and you [can’t be] taught to do this.”

On the one hand, I can understand how Prensky might think that listening to an audio book or watching a film can take the place of the written word, in fact there might even be times that I would promote that idea myself. However, I also agree with his idea that a person has to learn how to enjoy reading, and by that I mean actually sitting down with a book and flipping through the pages.

My concern with substituting video for books is the fear that removing books from classrooms would give books in general a negative stigma. Already we see children who look at books as evil things, who wonder why someone would spend time reading if they don’t have to. In my eyes, if we were to stop using them in classrooms, it would only exaggerate that idea. And if children see them as unnecessary things, as black sheep, when will they ever get the chance to discover the enjoyment of reading?

I discovered my love of reading as a child. I remember going to my Nana and Papa’s house in Connecticut, running into the den, crawling up Papa’s recliner, pulling down Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, and a collection of Fairy Tales, and pouring through them over and over again. It didn’t matter to me that I read the same stories every time I was there. What mattered was that I enjoyed them, and the enjoyment has stayed with me to this day.

In high school I hated reading, but only because I didn’t like being told what to read, when to read, and how to read. When I liked a book, I didn’t want to stop reading just because the homework assignment was over, but when I went into class and made comments about things that no one else had read yet, I was told not to read ahead. Books that I didn’t like provided a similar problem- I’d rather have just sat down and read the whole darn thing in one go than drag it out for weeks. But just because I didn’t read what my teacher wanted me to read, didn’t mean that I didn’t read. I simply chose different books to read, and read Book A while everyone else was reading Book B. Even now, with a hectic and unpredictable life, I still find time to read- because while reading, for just a few moments I can forget about the problems plaguing me.

Prensky, in his interview, said that there were only a few books that everyone should read, and that the most important part of reading is engaging the mind in something important- not wasting time on subplots that don’t affect the main point. But I just don’t buy that. I think that even the most useless books can influence the people who read them, that anyone who takes the time to get a book published should have the privilege of knowing that someone else has read it, and that the pleasure of reading should never be hindered by the content of the book.


4 thoughts on “Read What You Want, When You Want

  1. Interesting discussion, Samantha. It does seem as if we often forget the pleasure of reading, a pleasure that must come in part from our childhood when we found excitement in listening to stories and in part from the aestheitic beauty of language shaped into richly textured narrative. Reading books calls to us, stirs deeply in the imagination. I am not convinced that images flickering across a video screen will ever do that in quite the same way.

  2. I think sometimes people forget (maybe people like Marc Prensky) that even before the onslaught of visual media, not everyone read. The many people who do appreciate reading and value literature will not replace that act with video. That does not mean that visual media is unimportant, but that reading books and watching videos (or surfing the web, etc) are very different things, despite some overlap in required analytical skill and purpose.

  3. You make excellent, well-rounded arguments in this posting, all of which are supported in some way. I agree with you on many levels. And, yes, it is time to put pride back into books. It is time to inspire appreciation of reading and of the books themselves.

    The world is an ever-changing place. Changes should be both embraced and cautioned. Parts of the continuous stream of changes are technology, media and literature.

    Although it is excellent that people now have alternative ways of reading – options that satisfy a diverse range of individuals – reading books in their physical form is always going to be beneficial, even necessary.

    Video, blogs and songs cannot deliver all of what reading “the classic written word” can. While these new alternatives to the realm or writing and reading are powerful, they are not enough.

    Imagination is practically extirpated with, for example, watching a film adaptation rather than reading the book. And imagination is hugely significant to one’s learning and growing. Without imagination, creativity is lost, individuality suffers and diversity shrinks.

    It is crucial for the mind to become engaged with the written word, both well-developed and underdeveloped writing, unlike what Prensky argues. People benefit from all types of literature, not just one kind.

    Prensky, as you note, says that only some books are important for “everyone” to read. Well, what books are those? I’d like to know.

    All books are important, even if those books that are, well, awful, like the Twilight saga. Something can be learned from every piece of literature. And, more importantly, joy and growth can come from a wide array of literature.

  4. Samantha, Marc Prensky presents some intriguing ideas, especially about learning in the future–ideas in fact we must reckon with. The book does not count for much in his prescripton for literacy. The fact he thinks only a few books are worth reading and a book can be reduced to a few ideas, and we should shuck the rest, lets us know he knows nothing the role literature plays in learning, shaping the mind and the imagination, and the lives of those who read. Prensky’s vision of the future is pretty scarey.

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