Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hug a book today

If you love to read, you have a mission.

We have to get every kid we know juiced about reading. And this isn’t just my usual rant about reading newspapers.

Go hug a book today. It might be the most important thing you do.

I just bought two novels at lunch -– and I’m juiced about reading them, thanks to the author, Chris Bohjalian. He was the featured speaker at today’s Library Foundation Author Luncheon, held to benefit the Manatee County Public Library System. He’s on a whirlwind book tour touting his novels -– Bradenton is his 27th city since Feb. 11.

Chris has the gift of owning his audience. He had us chuckling as he shed any notion that a book tour is all about glamour and rubbing elbows with famous people. He had us applauding after telling how his hometown in Vermont lost its library in a flood, and how three generations of townspeople bailed out what they could from the library even as their own homes were flooded. He had all of us wannabe authors amazed at how his novels are borne from some crystallized moment or event that touched his life.

Each of his tales came together in one message: “Nothing is more important than getting kids juiced about reading books.” Reading is meant to be fun, no matter the vehicle. Just like we are unsure what a newspaper will look like in 100 years, we don’t know what books will look like by then. “But we’ll still be reading books,” Chris declared.

And we believe him, despite the discouraging numbers he dished out at the start. A National Endowment for the Arts survey found that, in the mid-1980s, 57 percent of American adults had read at least one book. Today, that number is a dismal 46 percent -– a decline of 20 million readers of fiction.

Here’s the flip side of those numbers. When his town lost its library, the word went out. Donations came in from around the world to replace it, and Burlington has a new library today.

Manatee County has discussed cutting library hours and even closing some branches in these tough budget times. We have work to do, fellow readers. An amazing chunk of that work has been shouldered by the Library Foundation for the past 20 years. That group has raised more than $450,000 for books, children’s literature and even a bookmobile, local attorney and foundation president Mark Barnebey told the luncheon.

Chris Bohjalian called us all "medieval monks" because we’re still avid booklovers. But he left us with this encouraging factoid: There are still more public libraries than MacDonald’s fast-food restaurants.

Love those double-cheeseburgers, but not without a book in the other hand!



Señor Garcia said...

Hmm. This sounds like a thinly disguised plea to save newspapers, if you ask me.
"Please, oh please, let's save these young folks from themselves and be sure they read words printed on paper."
Never mind that they go on-line daily and absorb more information than any newspaper could ever contain. There is no information in your newspaper they can't elsewhere.
And who are you to proclaim that "46 percent of adults have read a book this year" as a dismal statistic?
Do you care how many films they've watched. How many TV news magazines they've watched? How many times they've accessed the Smithsonian website online?
Face it, the concept of words printed on paper is rapidly going the way of the horse and carriage. The telegraph. Vinyl records.
All were precious in their time. But all were replaced by something better.
Embrace the internet. It is your future.

Anonymous said...

I'd like you to know about the Reading Club at the Harllee Boys & Girls Club/21st Century Community Learning Center at Harllee Middle School. Sheila Murray meets with several young people at least once a week that I know of, to read and discuss a book. They have been reading "The Secret Life of Bees" and most recently I received notes from the young women with their thoughts of this 'young girl coming of age' book. They are all so excited. I will drop the notes by one day for you to read.

All is well in Mrs. Murray's world. She is giving these young women a gift that cannot be taken away.

Anonymous said...

Actually, a lot of people acknowledge that vinyl records have a richer sound than the thin, tin melodies you hear from an ipod. Change is not automatically better, it's just automatically different!