Last year during Thanksgiving, I was sitting at the dinner table at my grandma’s house, devouring yet another slice of bread and butter while she catered to the endless sea of Italian relatives, when I overheard a conversation between my great uncle and a young boy, who was poking away at colorful dots on the screen of his Kindle Fire.
“A Kindle Fire, eh?” said my (not actually Canadian) uncle. “What books do you have on there?”
Without averting his eyes from the screen, the child, who could not have been more than 13, responded: “Please. I don’t read books on here.”
My heart shrank three sizes that day, reaching a point achieved only once before when Harry Potter ended. The reason why was not so much that I was upset at the misuse of technology (go ahead, wear your Xbox 360 as a hat, I don’t care) but rather at the emphasis placed on “books,” as if the mere suggestion of reading was a personal insult to his character. When did this become the case? When did reading turn from a sign of intelligence and creativity into a chore, a burden, or even a source of embarrassment?
While I can’t blame this problem on the media entirely, I also can’t say all forms of entertainment are harmless. Take the book-to-movie trend, for example. As a general rule, people like books not because of how well an author can describe a red wheelbarrow but because of what the description means, the deeper message that lies beneath the story. But when a book so jam-packed with meaning like The Great Gatsby hits the big screen and you cannot dissect every sentence with your English teacher to understand that the green light is not JUST a green light, the story becomes merely a collection of scenes, void of the thought-provoking and personal nature that makes reading so unique. Books are for the mind; movies are for the eyes.
And yet, as we breed a generation of movie-goers who opt to take the film route because “why read the book when you can just wait for the movie,” we wonder why Jersey Shore and its counterparts that lack substance, that lack meaning, continue to grow in popularity. Kids now don’t want you to read about orange people that live in some alternate universe where work means dating everyone in your house at once while spouting profanity at every given opportunity. They want you to provide the visuals. They want you to hand it to them on a platter and feed it to them like servants feed grapes to Gods. Imagination is too much effort.
I’m not saying cinema and television are the works of the Devil. Without them, we would not have Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Gosling, Matt Damon or any of the other blond-haired, blue-eyed demi-God celebrities. (If they didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have anyone to plaster pictures of all over my walls so movies are kind of essential to my whole being.) All I’m saying is that kids should not want to only watch movies simply because it requires less brainpower. When that happens, you start finding Facebook profiles that say “I dun reedzz” under the book section and “Charlie Sheen” under “inspirational people.” Kids should be excited to get a new novel for Christmas/Hannukah/Christmakah or crack open the newest book in their favorite series (if they even have a favorite series to begin with). I don’t just want them to read. I want them to want to read. Is that so much to ask?
Perhaps I’m part of a dying breed, one who values books over movies and would rather not watch her favorite characters trickle through the book-to-movie-to-video-game cycle until they are transformed into nothing more than pixels on a screen. But perhaps not. Maybe this lull in reading is a momentary lapse of judgement on humanity’s part, a side effect of the booming age of technology that attracts us like bugs to a flame or like swag to Will Smith. Maybe kids will get tired of pricey movie remakes or empty television shows and get back to the simple pleasures like the smell of a freshly purchased book or the midnight premiere of a story about wizards. Maybe someday, kids will even read books on Kindle Fires. We can only hope that reading will make a comeback in the future.