We know reading and writing habits vary greatly across generations. Parents look at their kids and wonder why they don't take a book to bed or to the couch on a cold, wet Sunday afternoon.
Boomers had one primary means of escape from their strict and regimented daily lives; Books.
Stories whisked Boomers away. Their hands held a physical book that enabled a one-on-one connection; just the reader and the writer.
The power of the story is a connection between writer and reader; obviously that’s essential. That’s why we write and why we read, and it’s the wonderful intimacy of it, too, to have a reader lending her inner voice to a writer’s voice; there really isn’t anything else like it.
It’s just the two of you, inside your brain, when you’re reading, the writer and the reader. I guess you could say there are three: the writer, the character, and the reader. That’s it. There are no commercial breaks, no one stepping in to editorialize. There’s this wonderful intimacy, and that connection is essential to why we seek to escape through prose.
And then there’s also connections of plot. We read with the silent expectation that what we are discovering, where we’re being led by the writer’s voice through a work, is full of meaning and purpose, or else why are we embracing the arc of the story?
The reader—even if the writer forgot to do it or only stumbled across connections—is the one who’s looking for connections, who’s looking for, “I’ll go with you, but tell me why we’re here. I’ll live in this character’s head for a while, but I want to have a sense of why you’ve brought me here.”
So, that’s the essential leap-of-faith that leads to those connections that are foundations for a sense of plot, those connections that are necessary for a sense of wonder, the wonder of art, that there is a completeness about this story or this novel; a reassurance for the reader that there was a creative human mind behind all the choices that were made. It's at the heart of why we read and write—it’s the crafting of a connection.
For a writer, it's a question of recognizing that anything worth having, has its price. People who respect themselves are willing to accept the risk . . . that the new venture will fail, that the experiment will not yield the hoped-for outcome. They are willing to invest something of themselves; they may not play at all, but when they do play, they know the odds.
That kind of self-respect derives from discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth. . . . To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which, for better or for worse, constitutes self-respect, is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and possibly to decide to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference.
A writer's genius—and it is a genius—resides in the ability to combine the specific and the sweeping in a single paragraph, to understand that the details of why we hurt and alienate one another based on skin-color, sex, class, fame, or politics is also what makes us human.
Today the reading vacuum is a parent's lament. The 11-year-old girl is more interested in TikTok than Alice exploring Wonderland, or Wind Blowing through Willows.
And while she certainly can read, she really doesn’t like to; this is painful for parents. The regret for many parents, reading has become one of the most reliable points of friction in family life.
“Just read for 20 minutes a day,” is the plea.
“I don’t want to,” she replies.
“You have to,” the reply.
“Or what?” she asks.
What I want to say: “Or you will never make it in school! You will never go to college! You will work a minimum-wage job your whole life!”
What I actually say: “Or I will take your iPad away.”
“Well, then,” she replies, “how about if I read on my iPad?”
You just can’t expect kids to sit down and open a 300-page book like we did back in the day. Many have probably never even seen one.
Tech-addled adults are not immune to the curse of the shortened attention span. Unless I am deeply engaged in a subject, I no longer have the patience for those overly long New Yorker stories. That teetering pile of unread books on my nightstand could kill me in an earthquake. How did it get so tall? Because I used to read novels until I got sleepy. Now I snuggle with my digital tablet.
But you know what? Kids rebel. Parents don't know as much as they think they do.
What better way to carve out your own identity in a house full of readers than to spurn the written word?
The reading battle-lines are well and truly drawn and it's a battle that can't be won.
So, what's the winning strategy?
It's not about reading; it's about writing. Learning the art of expression.
Learning to be brave about hanging your art on the wall.
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