Defending the small and overlooked: Books


Two weeks ago, I experienced a sad moment in my life. A friend and I were talking about books and reading, and he made a comment that almost made my jaw drop.  

“I just don’t understand what’s so fun about reading, you’re just sitting there doing nothing.”

Doing…nothing?

Since I was a little girl, reading has been one of my most beloved activities and books are some of my greatest friends. Nancy Drew opened me to the exciting world of danger, mystery and suspense, while the American Girl doll series gave me stories of girls that I could relate to with their various struggles and triumphs.  

Reading even became a bit too consuming for me, when in third grade my teacher took it upon herself to teach me the surprisingly difficult game of double-dutch, in an attempt to get me to interact with my classmates more.  

While reading requires a certain level of separation, I’m not advocating for the type of reading that I sometimes did when I was younger where I separated myself from the other kids.  

What I am hoping is that the perception of reading will change. I want reading to again become what it was in years past — special.

It doesn’t matter to me how that is achieved — whether it’s through reading a physical book or an e-copy, reading is reading. My heart might have broke when Borders closed nationwide because it couldn’t compete with online books, but what mattered was that electronics were able to open up a greater access to reading, hopefully for all age groups.

As I’ve gone through and graduated high school and am beginning my journey at the University, it worries me when I have friends and coworkers express great surprise over my love of reading or relatively quick reading pace.  

I understand that everything improves with practice, including reading, but my spirits aren’t raised when I read on the Reading is Fundamental website that about 40 percent of U.S. fourth graders do not achieve basic levels of reading proficiency, and for those that don’t improve, their job prospects fall and their risk for anti-social behavior increases. 

What this says to me is that reading, and being able to read well, improves lives.

I’m reminded of the 2007 movie “Freedom Writers,” an inspirational true story about a class of students at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, California. These kids hated their teacher, their school and each other. Gang and racial tensions in that area were high and to put 30 angry kids in a classroom almost guaranteed disaster.

But something crazy happened — it wasn’t a disaster, but exactly the opposite.  

Their teacher, Erin Gruwell, inspired these students through literature and writing. She was able to bring a classroom full of angry, frustrated teenagers together through books that mirrored their struggles and situations, and together they started a system to help students that multiple schools across the country still implement. 

Books connect, and more than just connect, they give joy, peace, wisdom and laughter, and who could ever ignore that?  

Even hundreds of years ago people recognized the importance of books. The invention of the printing press in the 1400s led to increased literacy rates and allowed people to be educated about what was happening in their communities. 

Words had the power to inflame; Martin Luther’s 95 Theses spawned one of the greatest religious upheavals, and people could only understand his ideas and beliefs because of books.  

I’m still encouraged everyday by the events that my local library hosts, and the popularity our local bookstore enjoys.

I believe that the type of devotion in “Fahrenheit 451,” a book about a dystopian society where a man tries to save banned books from being burned by the town’s “fireman” can also be applied to today’s world.   

We cannot continue to let our attitudes toward books be those of confused indifference.

The next time we sit down to read a book, we should know that we’re doing the farthest thing from nothing.

Meghan McCoy, freshman in LAS.