The recent controversy over President Barack Obama’s speech to schoolchildren demonstrates the American ability to generate controversy over the most inane matters. Does anyone really have a problem with the president encouraging kids to take school seriously, to do their homework, and to watch less TV?
I would suggest that those parents who are afraid that the president is going to indoctrinate their children to socialism instead concern themselves with all the rancid, mind-numbing sex and violence on TV. That’s a much bigger threat.
The loss of intellectual curiosity and the death of reading among our kids is a serious crisis. The average child watches three hours of TV per day, but reads a book only when forced to by a teacher. What a loss. Reading fires the imagination and deepens our understanding of our own humanity. Few pleasures in life match the joy of a satisfying book. No movie is as good as the book. Francis Ford Coppola may give you the best possible rendition of what Mario Puzo intended with “The Godfather,” and Marlon Brando might bring the character to life. Still, it is their interpretation that prevails. But when you read the book, you are the director. While visual images make you into a passive participant, reading makes you an active agent.
Thomas Jefferson said, “I cannot live without books.” Indeed he regarded his library as his most cherished possession. The joys of reading were perhaps best captured by Jorge Luis Borges, who wrote, “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”
As a father I have endeavored mightily to impart the joys of reading to my children. Every Friday night, when our Sabbath meal ends, we retire to the living room. The kids get blankets and pillows, and everyone reads a book. The tradition of associating holy days with reading goes all the way back to the Bible, where Isaiah says, “Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read” (34:16).
People used to at least read on airplanes, since there was scarcely anything else to do. But Jet Blue’s TVs, now copied by most major carriers, have killed even that off. I used to drag a small sack of books on a plane so I could switch between them. My fellow passengers did not appreciate the burden. The advent of e-books allows a reader to carry hundreds of books in a tiny electronic volume. And the Sony E Reader in particular is open format, allowing for the download of hundreds of thousands of books for free. You can even download books from lending libraries. They stay on your device for a few weeks before they are “returned.”
The open format has allowed me to introduce my children to the world’s classics. I told my son how worthwhile it would be to embark on the long journey through Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” He in turn found Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” at Gutenberg.com and a few days later shared with me Kurtz’s gradual descent from human to beast. I study Bible with my children most nights, and now often do it from an E Reader. I asked my kids which they thought superior, the Bible’s commandment not to take revenge, or Machiavelli’s pronouncement that it is better to be feared than loved? Intrigued, two of my teenagers downloaded “The Prince” and read it within a few days.
As an author, you quickly learn the limitations of printed books. Even if you write your book quickly, you have to wait about a year for it to appear in bookstores. But with e-books, an author can have a book available for download in about a month.
This is what happened when I sought to write a book on America’s fallen economy. Had I gone the traditional route of having it typeset, printed, bound, and distributed, I would have missed the media window where the economy’s downturn was still being discussed. As it is, I approached an e-book company with my manuscript, and now, just a few weeks later, it’s being published on the Web.
The miracle of modern e-books is a godsend to authors, combining the short lead-time of a magazine article with the comprehensiveness of a book.
I got all my kids E Readers. Using state-of-the-art technology is a powerful way to wean them off the coma-inducing effects of reality TV and nurture a love for reading. Groucho Marx put it best: “I find television very educational; every time someone turns it on, I go into the other room and read a book.”