Before we burn the books

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This Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018 photo shows thousands of books sit on Liberty Street, as part of a one-night public art installation in Ann Arbor, Mich. The University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities has invited Spain-based art collective Luzinterruptus to work with university and community groups to create the installation titled “Literature vs. Traffic .” The display in Ann Arbor will be on Liberty Street between State and Maynard streets. The event is part of the institute’s 2018-19 theme “Humanities and Environments.” (Ben Allan Smith /Ann Arbor News via AP)

“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

― Ray Bradbury, “Fahrenheit 451”

The quintessential act of curling up in a cozy chair with a good book is becoming more of an idyllic vision than reality. When not in class or working, how many people actually read a book for fun? Not many. According to a study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 19 percent of Americans ages 15 and older read for pleasure on a given day.

Of course, why would one read when they could watch the latest episodes of “Stranger Things” or “Orange is the New Black.” Perhaps “Friends” for the nostalgic or “Gilmore Girls” for the true romantics. But what happened to getting lost in words on a page, developing relationships and passion for characters crafted out of black ink text or even simply seeking the great escape in a romance novel or sci-fi story? Is there still a purpose for the written word in the age of Netflix bingeing?

After a bit of research, I can conclude with relief that there is.

A recent study conducted by Gustavus Adolphus College concluded that 93 percent of its 717 college students do enjoy reading for pleasure. However, 77 percent reported simply not having the time. Whether it be due to course load or socializing, both in person and virtually, books seem to be left abandoned.

As a reader seeking refuge in a society of distractions, I was fascinated by the New York Times article “London Bookstores Go Rogue as No Wi-Fi Zones” by Katherine Schulten. Now, a plane ticket, suitcase and cab money is all I need to reach my oasis.

A select few bookstores in London are re-capturing the tradition of “human intuition,” as Rohan Silva, owner of Libraria Books, described. This perspective focuses on the creative and stress relieving experience of holding a book, rather than the repetitive motion of tapping on a screen.

Although hardly tech-free, I spent an afternoon in the local Barnes and Noble, surrounded by the anticipation of stories waiting to be discovered. I put away my laptop, turned off my phone and found a nice chair.

While the benefits of reading are often assumed to be academic, a report by The Reading Agency expanded this idea.

Impact and Evaluation Research Manager, Laura Venning, states “reading for pleasure can result in increased empathy, improved relationships with others, reductions in the symptoms of depression and dementia, and improved wellbeing.”

For those who think they don’t enjoy reading, it is possible that you have not been reading the right books. Try something new – a new genre, a different author. As an English major, one might assume I spend my down time reading Kafka or Hemingway. Instead, on this particular day I enjoyed the relatable and intensely emotional YA novel by Angie Thomas, “The Hate U Give.”

As I left the store, adjusting back to the speed and demand of the iPhone era, I am still left wondering if Silva’s assumption is too simplistic for this high-tech world we have created? Is the relationship between human and paperback book too uncomfortable after our affair with Apple products? Will the United State’s ever be capable in following suit of this “old fashioned” trend?

Before we burn the pages, much like in “Fahrenheit 451,” I challenge you to spend one night getting lost in a story. See what happens and let us begin to rekindle our natural bond with books.


Kate Luongo is a contributor to The Daily Campus Life section.  She can be reached via email at katherine.luongo@uconn.edu.

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