Read a book: it’s not as hard as you think

By: Andrew Koch

Remember being a kid? Not the Buzzfeed, nostalgia-fueled vision of childhood that insists that ‘N Sync and Destiny’s Child were the epitome of popular music. Nor the one that laments how tragic it is that future generations won’t know what a VHS is.

No, I’m talking about being whatever age it was when you were just learning how to read. Reading was fun. It was something we did to feel educated and grown-up. It was a way for us to pass a dull summer afternoon or to escape to worlds that we could never imagine otherwise.

I used to love reading. I remember getting angry at my English teacher in the fifth grade because I was convinced that he was withholding my Scholastic book order. I remember Thursdays being my favorite day of the week in grade school because that was when our teacher would take us down to the school library and let us check out two books.

But when I got to high school, I, like a lot of other people I know, stopped reading for pleasure because I was “too busy.” When I have down time, I look to the Internet (mainly Netflix) and movies for entertainment. I’m not sure I can tell you the last time I actually read for fun.

Now, as a college student majoring in English, I’m surprised to find that none of us read for fun anymore.

So, at the beginning of 2013 I set out to recapture that love for literature and read at least 30 books this year, an ambitious but not impossible goal. After all, I’m an English major and what good is an English major who doesn’t read?

I went to Half-Price Books and bought used copies of some classics that I felt like I should have read as someone who studies literature — books that are famous for making people think and challenging how we view society: “1984,” “Animal Farm,” “Brave New World.” I had every intention of reading those, too.

My progress? It’s September and I’ve read 10 books, eight of which were for classes. The other two — “The Hobbit” and “The Great Gatsby” — I had read before and only cracked them open again in anticipation of film adaptations.

Based on conversations with other people my age, I’ve found that I’m not alone. What happened to us? Why have we, as an age group, stopped reading for pleasure?

I found the answer last year in one of my Communications classes when we learned about communication theorist Marshall McLuhan and his distinction between “hot” and “cool” media.

According to McLuhan, creators of “hot” media, like television and film, only engage one of the audience’s senses (vision) and don’t leave the viewer much room for imagination. While they might have a lot to think about after viewing “hot” media, the audience is mostly passive while they experience it.

But in McLuhan’s “cool” media, like novels, short stories and poetry, the audience has to be more engaged in what is happening. Because the creator of the work hasn’t presented a literal representation of the world of the novel or poem, the audience members have to imagine those places for themselves.

For example, if I ask you to think about the coffee shop from “Friends” or the library from “The Breakfast Club,” most of you would be picturing the same place. But if I asked you to describe Jay Gatsby’s mansion or Peeves the Poltergeist from “Harry Potter,” you would all give somewhat different descriptions. Instead of depicting those places and characters as physical objects and people, writers leave it up to the reader’s imagination, forcing them to be more active.

Maybe the reason we don’t read for fun anymore is because we see that kind of investment as work. After busy days of jobs, classes and homework, we look for a simple and easy way to unwind. We turn away from the “cold” media that asks us to exert the effort to make another world come alive. Subconsciously, we don’t want to work during our “play” time, filling in the gaps that authors leave for us. So, we turn to the “hot” media where all of that work is done for us, little imagination required.

But while that level of engagement may sound like work, it’s also one of the greatest things about reading. Reading engages a part of our imagination that other kinds of media can’t. As readers, we’re limited only by our imaginations, and not by the visions of a director, casting director or videographer. When we read, we create a world that is entirely our own and that no one can take away from us.

So while reading may be harder work than watching movies or TV, it’s certainly good and rewarding work. And as educated, holistic people, we shouldn’t be so afraid to do it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some “How I Met Your Mother” to re-watch.

Andrew Koch is the Campus News Editor at the Newswire. He is a junior English and Advertising major with minors in Writing and Electronic Media from Cincinnati.