The worth of words

This article by Michael Rogers was brought to my attention a few days ago. It puts forth the idea that in the future the need to analyze and extrapolate a complex book will not be a skill that most people need.

Itís time to acknowledge that in a truly multimedia environment of 2025, most Americans donít need to understand more than a hundred or so words at a time, and certainly will never read anything approaching the length of an old-fashioned book.

It is hard to tell whether the author is kidding…for example:

The nationís leaders must be able to read; for those who follow, the ability should be strictly optional.

In any case, this is a subject that I am passionate about. I remember arguing with my high school English teachers over the choice of reading material, whether it was Grendel or Catcher in the Rye (not that my teachers had any control, it was set up by the school district).


(used book store back home)

I was raised to love books, to dive into a 600 page book with no thought to the fact that it was bigger than my head. I tend toward fantasy & sci-fi, but love everything else nearly as much. I would not have the ability to write as I do, the ability to edit documents and read as fast as I do if I had not been encouraged from a very early age to read anything I could get my hands on.

It isn’t necessarily that someone must be a “book-worm” to learn to enjoy reading. Kids are often given books that are boring in school, forced to read things in class that they can’t connect to, and thus the process of reading is turned into a chore.

Thoughts?

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6 Comments

  1. You bet I have thoughts. As I read that article I kept marveling at the irony of trying to be farsighted and ending up so myopic. I love the second quote you pointed out, as if he’s extolling the virtues of 1984.

    I wage a personal battle against incorrect spelling, grammar, style and diction every day. I have all my amazing (literally, pun intended) English teachers to thank for that. It’s a losing battle in the days of soundbites, texts and emails, but I fight valiantly.

    At least while I’m alive, there will be a place for books. And one thing the author neglects: the great works of the past ain’t goin’ nowhere, pal.

  2. I feel like the authors point is one of necessity. I navigated my way through college and six years of work to a mid-level managenement gig in a large company without ever really needing to read and synthesize a great deal of info. Why didn’t I do it during school? JI was juggling full time work and school and making time for a life, who had time to read?

    Well, after graduating and leaving my job I’ve spent a lot of time reading and honing my reading comp skills a great deal…but I could have just as easily elected not to and probably not have known what I was missing. It’s simply not necessary for a lot of folks to have these skills in order to get by in today’s world.

    Having said all of this I’m now off to Peet’s to go caffinate myself and read Snow Crash for the 15th time. har har =)

  3. BOOK NERDS UNITE! FIGHT THE INTERNET! Wait, Im on the internet right now.

    ok, first comment: Sholeh, I contribute the fact that I can understand highly complicated words, phrases, ideas and whatnot to the fact that I was reading the same books you were speaking of in this post at a young age. This has led me to completely fool everyone into thinking that I am an intelligent being.

    Second Comment: George, we are brothers in that selfless battle. As much as it may be fun to slip in “ebonics” at times, being a well spoken, well written person should not be an anomoly. Plus my mother would smack my face off if I really spoke like that.

    Third Comment: John, HOLY CRAP! I didnt think anyone else on Earth had read Snow Crash. Its one of my all time favorites, and I may have read it about 15 or 16 times also. That is no joke.

  4. George & Patrick: The fight is endless. One of my biggest pet peeves is people butchering spelling/grammar/etc.

    Also, a lot of the early books I read were Baha’i books, which are full of complicated words and sentence structures. If I didn’t know what something meant, I asked or looked it up. As time went on I got more into fiction, but early on it was the Baha’i Writings that got me started.

    John: It is true, many people go through life without having “needed” these skills to function…but I would argue that our society suffers when the vast majority of its population is not educated to the level that is possible. We have the access to enormous resources, we just don’t utilize them to their full potential, which is really sad.

    As for Snow Crash, Patrick, John is giving me a hard time because I finished reading it for the third time last night. Shannon is actually the first one to get me hooked on that book (& the Diamond Age). There are a lot more of us than you might think…

  5. Thankfully, I think the “future editorial” was indeed facetious. I don’t know about you, but I’d be lost without the ability to feign intelligence through verbosity. ūüėõ

    While I agree that reading comprehension is not -obviously- needed, it’s absense is leading to severe structural defects in our society — the declining quality of news reporting, frex.

    Although I have to wonder — if long books are going out of style, why is Stephen King so popular?

  6. This may be a slight tangent, but I recently ordered a book that might be of interest: “Reading Like a Writer: A guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them.” I haven’t started it yet but it is supposed to provide insight on how we can appreciate the craft of writing by reading, and learn some lessons in the process.