According to a March 14, 2001 Washington Post article, “a 1999 Gallup Poll found that only 7 percent of Americans were voracious readers, reading more than a book a week, while some 59 percent said they had read fewer than 10 books in the previous year. Though book clubs seem popular now, only 6 percent of those who read belong toone. The number of people who don’t read at all, the poll concluded, has been rising for the past 20 years.”
This phenomenon is known as aliteracy – that is, having the ability to read butchoosing not to do so. It is a trend that, if it continues to grow, will become an even bigger problem than it is today.
It seems obvious that this aversion to reading begins at an early age when kids get easilyfrustrated at an activity they cannot excel at. But even for the avid middle-school reader, an aversion can develop in high school or even in college. In college, so much emphasisis placed on that it is simply a necessary skill. If a person does not keep up in the textbook, he or she will most likely fall behind in class. In a given semester, a student may face hundreds of pages of reading alone, more likely than not in a subject thatthey are not interested in. Even worse is when a person has a bad English professor who assigns a ton of reading but does not teach the material. That will really make the person dread picking up a book. By the time a break comes along, the phrase “reading for pleasure” is completely foreign. Nowadays, people want to unwind with their iPods or spend hours in front of the television. At St. John’s, few students seem to be spending their common hour buried in a book that was not being used to help write a paper.
Aliteracy is not something that should be taken lightly. Mark Twain said it best, when henoted, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”
Reading not just literature, but good literature, should be encouraged at a young age. Parents should read their children E.B. White’s classic, “Charlotte’s Web,” instead oftaking them only to see movies. Trips to the library should become a regular outing.As for the college students, perhaps the professors can help out; a textbook is a textbook and no matter how much they improve, students will always have an aversion to them. But what about reading supplements? Assigning an interesting book that has relevance to the course material might help students do better and pay more attention. Regular class discussions on readings would help because college should be a vehicle to help students to voice their opinions and the opportunity to exchange ideas.
Literacy does not mean being well-versed in the works of Henry David Thoreau, JamesJoyce or Oscar Wilde. Reading the entire “Harry Potter” series with passion is better than reading “Dubliners” for English class but absorbing it not. If we all listen to Mark Twain’s advice, we can all fight aliteracy and become more passionate readers, making us more valuable members in a competitive society.