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.