When we talk about books, we often talk about them through a lens of Books Are Good. And I don’t just mean as book bloggers. As an educator and librarian this is obviously something that is always going around. But society in general seems to hold reading in high esteem.
This is especially true in comparison to other media. Books good, TV bad. Video games even worse. Candy Crush make you a less good human being, books make you a better human being!
My friends, family, and co-workers speak to me with admiration (and often envy) about my good reading habits. My husband is starting a New Year’s Resolution to read a book every month, in part so we have something to do together, but mostly because he thinks it is a Good thing to do.
But is reading inherently valuable? Does reading make us better? Are books superior to other media?
Obviously this is a loaded question. As a book blogger speaking to other book bloggers, I know that we value books more than we value other forms of media. As an educator and librarian, I know the value being a proficient reader brings to kids throughout their education, and the advantages that it gives them later in life. And one of the only ways for kids to become proficient readers is to spend time (especially time outside of school) reading.
But I don’t know that I believe reading is inherently a valuable use of one’s time, especially in comparison to other media.
I want to challenge the notion that books are somehow Better Than movies, video games, comics, sports, music, or whatever. There is nothing inherent in the process of reading a book that is universally better than the process of watching YouTube. Yes, reading books can make you a better person, can increase your awareness of the world, your compassion to other people, and so on. BUT SO CAN EVERY OTHER FORM OF MEDIA. Sure, binging television can turn pretty mindless, but so can reading YA paranormal romance.
In my opinion, our general good opinion of reading is either derived from the idea that it makes us either smarter, more cultured, or both. But film, music, television, they all contribute equally, if not more, to our culture. They also have the power to teach and inspire, to make the world a better place. I find the notion that books, visual art, and classical music are the only real forms of art to be elitist and misplaced. All media is art, though some may be better (or more artistic!) than others.
In addition, I don’t know that I would equate being a “good reader” with being “intelligent”. Placing aside the theory of multiple intelligences and the rejection of the traditional understanding of intelligence, being literate does not make you able to think logically or think for yourself. Period.
Obviously there’s some nuance here. There is growing research about the impact screens have on our brains that should impact the amount of time we choose to spend consuming screen-based media. For children, reading as a pastime is more developmentally important than television as a pastime. But on the other hand, video games and board games teach an equally valuable set of skills in the form of problem solving and fine motor skills.
Mostly, I want to reject the feelings of superiority bookish people often hold when comparing themselves to people with other hobbies, such as sports and video games. Whatever you choose to do in your personal time you do because you enjoy it, not because it is Good. And every hobby has something valuable to offer, even if it isn’t literacy,