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Booked In: Chapter 9: Death of the reader

By Peri Miller

I have a confession to make.

So far this year, I’ve only read 12 books. That’s okay, I guess, but for a self-proclaimed bibliophile, lover of literature, and someone who literally writes a column about books, it’s pretty bloody weak. Far from the avid and constant reader I’ve been pretending to be, my reading habits are anything but routine. Being that I do want to be everything I just mentioned, I’m a bit embarrassed about it.

Part of the reason for this is because it feels like I’m contributing to a much larger issue which I’m otherwise pretty passionate about solving (despite there being no clear-cut solution).

The New Zealand Book Council’s most recent survey found that in 2016, around 394,000 New Zealand adults didn’t even start reading a book. Of those who do read, of course, Kiwi adults read an average of 20.6 books per year—which is pretty good! Lower than my own personal average, of course, so I already feel a little better about myself.

I think those 394,000 non-readers’ reasons for not picking up a book last year might be very similar to why my own reading habits are so inconsistent.

In a word: modernity. Television shows, video games, movies, social media—the internet. All of these recently assimilated forms of entertainment seem much less effort than sitting down with a book—and why? Primarily, I think, because they can mostly be accessed from the same place. Your computer, laptop, tablet, phone. Not to say that books can’t (I’ve already discussed e-books at length, you might recall), but since a computer monitor puts more strain on the eyes than the printed page, you’re likely to tire much more easily, and switch out the literature for your internet browser much sooner.

Now, I’m not complaining about technology. You’ll never catch me complaining about technology. That would make me a hypocrite, since I can’t live without it. It’s just difficult to examine the reasons why some people don’t read books without looking to the obvious answer, which is technology. Yes, yes, whatever—you can make an argument for a shortage of free time, but somehow people always seem to have time for Netflix. Reading a book is a higher involvement activity, and is therefore seen as requiring more effort.

Which makes sense… until you think about it. Arguably, we read more than ever. Most of everything on the internet involves some form of reading—social media posts, news articles, YouTube comments. Of the 394,000 non-reading Kiwis, 31 per cent claimed to not enjoy reading. Well, they must really hate modern daily life, saturated as it is with the written word—even road signs, for goodness sake! Nutritional information tables! Menus! This magazine?!

The only conclusion that can really be made is that there is no ready conclusion. I could go into detail about the various benefits of regularly reading books. I could tell you about bibliotherapy, which offers books as prescriptions for your emotional issues. I could explain how some of the most successful people in the world (such as Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Oprah Winfrey) are voracious readers.

If you’re a reader, keep reading. If not, maybe… give it a go? Please? Personally, I’m going to try read at least a little every day from now on, if only to not feel quite so inadequate when comparing myself to aforementioned rich, successful, and powerful people.

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