The Art of Reading… gone forever?

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Like a museum holding dusty remnants of a time pre-digital age, the Carnegie Free Library stands on the busiest corner in South, High Street San Fernando. Long past are my secondary school days, tucked in the short and narrow aisles, where I devoured the words of classic novels and New World literature.

Here, my love for Caribbean writers like Colin Channer and Kwame Dawes was developed, a love that became an adventure to the coastline of Jamaica and the Calabash Festival. A love that became a bachelor’s degree in writing.

Mankind bustles past this 90-year-old relic, the youth unaware of what lies tucked behind heavy, wooden doors, the elders too attached to their Blackberrys to read past status messages, and venture inside.

In a time where we can communicate in 140 characters or less, those ‘plugged-in’ must regard books as a pastime only fit for housewives, the vacationing, or the unemployed. As the essentiality of Internet has increased over the last ten years, in parallel, our attention spans have grown shorter. Internet research has shown that most people do not even read an entire page, but scan headlines and bold print, gathering information piece by piece like breadcrumbs left in a hopeless trail in the classic Hansel and Gretel. I chuckle as I type that last sentence, doubtful that those born in the last fifteen years would even know the reference.

Too busy to curl up and live vicariously through characters who evoke a range of emotions with the turn of each page, people have bid farewell to neighbourhood libraries. Paperless is the new way, they say. All I see is the lost art of reading, the death of imagination.

The digital gods must have heard the common man’s cry for brain food because the Kindle was released a couple years ago. A bridge between the two worlds, it is the digital clone to the paperback; more evolved, but lacking the original’s genuine quality. The smell of the pages, the rustle as you hang in suspense page by page, the ‘dog ears’ like childhood scars reminding you of the memories of previous visits in these same pages. But this is about reading, right? Our kids and our kids’ kids will read. By Kindle. By computer. Byte by byte. But what will they miss? Isn’t there magic in the pages of a completed novel? The hard candy before the gum, checking publication dates, reading love notes to agents, publishers and most of all, patient partners celebrating bestseller lists before it even hit shelves. In the age of downloads we will lose the shelves.

There is magic in the pages of novels. The floors of the RIKs, the Ishmael & Khan’s, the Borders and Barnes & Nobles of the world are still considered sacred. Muses still live there, and for now, it is worthy to be preserved. The Art of Reading is hidden where humans today can’t be bothered to venture, but at least it isn’t lost.

 

Quilin Achat

Quilin Achat is an avid lover of reading, so it's no surprise that she runs a small, unconventional bookstore called The Fire is Lit, in San Fernando. Check out the Fire is Lit at http://facebook.com/theFireisLit.

5 Comments

  1. Aarti Gosine

    April 26, 2010 at 9:27 am

    Hi Qui,

    I agree totally with what you have said in the article. People today don’t read. The vast majority of people cannot name the last book that they read. This is also negatively affecting the children. I tutor children writing the SEA exam and the rare ones who do read write a much better essay and have an easier time with the Comprehension section than those who don’t read.
    I am trying to start a small reading group with the kids on my compound as I believe that reading greatly enhances ones life, acaedemically or otherwise.

  2. Quilin Achat

    qachat

    April 27, 2010 at 3:05 am

    Aarti, thanks for the feedback. I definitely support a reading group. I also think it’s sad that parents support the notion that reading is ‘work’, like homework or schoolwork.
    Reading is fun, and relaxing and totally frees your mind to think about things you wouldn’t have thought about before.
    Go for it girl, those kids will so appreciate it.
    Oh, by the way, I own a lil bookstore, so if there were some books you wanted, i could always get them for you.
    You have my email :)

  3. Cate

    April 28, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    reading will never die. NEVER!!!!! 😀

    i love reading. i always have and it’s something that i cannot do without. right now i’m in the middle of finals and i’m extremely stressed. my remedy? buy a book to read. i do agree that people don’t read anymore, but i do think that once there are people who are passionate about reading and the ‘culture’ of reading, we’ll be fine. and i agree with aarti. i got distinctions in English A and B and came in the top 100 in SEA, and i attribute this to the fact that my mother fostered a deep love for books in me when i was young.

  4. Witty

    April 30, 2010 at 4:38 am

    Qui,

    Gyurl, I so agree with this! In fact, I have recently added to my list of ‘Things To Do Before I Die’, read out at least half of the books that are considered Classics. Now mind you, I have revised the defintion ‘classic’ and I now check out the UK’s ‘The Big Read’ listing, because while I may have loved Othello, Romeo and Juliet etc in school under the guidance of my Literature teacher I cannot read the entire thing as an adult (shame).

    Regardless, I can tell you I love RIK High Street San Fernando, they have a WIDE variety of the classics, paperback, at $15 or less (yes, in 2010 I can buy a book for less than TT$15!)

    Also, bb has apps for the reader sometimes stuck without a book, its called Wattpad…and whilst any Jane, Tom or Harry may upload their ramblings onto the app, if you seach for classics like Pride and Prejudice (read this book for the first time in my life last month and I LOVE it), To Kill A Mockingbird and such.

    I hope you do start a reading group, or at least a hub for us the minority. Let me get an area to bring in my dog-earred classics so some other soul may have a read.

  5. Quilin Achat

    qachat

    May 3, 2010 at 2:05 am

    All, I know that there’s a lot of us who are good friends with reading, but it’s the younger ones, who don’t even like to read in the first place! and who already spend most of their time ‘reading’ fb status msgs that I worry about.
    Maybe THEY need a book club more than us devoted readers. Hmm…any teachers to take up this offer?

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