Is Reading Becoming a Thing of the Past?

It is widely thought that the arrival of the new millennium marked a new age and as vinyl had become a thing of the past so would the printed media.  Many lamented the death of both.  Interestingly in recent years vinyl has had something of a revival.

The millennium was supposed to mark the end of the book because it was the time when Generation Y would come of age.  A notable characteristic of Gen Y is a preference for digital media.  It was widely believed that they no longer read more than short internet articles and the newspaper is completely lost on them.  Some drew the conclusion that the book would be consigned to history.  Advertisers, who perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have abandoned traditional advertising in newpapers and magazines, are focused more on creating an online presence to reach Gen Y and those who have followed.  Similarly the TV was considered an out of date medium for them and the internet was the only way forward.

Books are to be treasured.  The written word has been central to maintaining history and storing knowledge since the dawn of time.  Historians often refer to prehistory and recorded history and the line of demarcation between the two is the advent of writing – which by implication means reading too.  Books inform and educate, they don’t only transfer knowledge but they are one of the best ways to learn vocabulary and develop imagination and as a result, creativity.  The creative spark is one of the things that makes mankind unique and separates us from other species.

It is not that Gen Y and subsequent generations won’t read, it’s the idea that they will no longer read books that concerned older people.  Reading and writing have been such an essential tool in the development of culture and identity that the abandoning of the book for more superficial writing seemed to be a travesty.

Then along came J.K. Rowling! 

Just when parents were despairing of getting their children to open a book for anything other than school work, Harry Potter arrived on our shelves and a whole new generation were captivated.  The remarkable thing about Harry Potter is that it is not all that remarkable.  It is not unique in featuring little witches or being teen fiction*, nor is it remarkable in its setting in a school, yet a whole generation were hooked and our eternal love affair with books found new life.

* to label it teen fiction or a young reader’s book is a misnomer because many adults enjoyed the series too.

Harry Potter wasn’t unique in this category, but it was the one that stood out the most because of the popularity of both the books and then subsequently the films.  The Eragon series (strictly speaking known as The Inheritance Cycle) by Christopher Paolini and Twilight by Stephanie Meyer went a long way to re-establishing reading as a habit for the young and not just older generations. Again they were made into films and while Eragon was relatively well received the Twilight films were generally labelled as ‘terrible’.

I am not particularly a fan of any of these series and I find some elements of Harry Potter quite objectionable.  Let me illustrate.  It is typical of adventure stories to put the protaganists in danger as they face challenges, overcome obstacles and ultimately defeat an enemy.  However, in my mind, Harry Potter stretches credibility (yes I know it is a fantasy world – or am I just an unknowing Muggle?), because the children are exposed to danger during the normal activities of the school, Quidditch is probably the most dangerous game in history and the lesson with the Mandrake roots in which Hermione Granger acknowledges that “the cry of the Mandrake is fatal to anyone who hears it” is not a lesson that responsible teachers would teach.  Chemistry teachers do not teach bomb making and woodwork and metalwork classes are not devoted to weapon making for a reason.

As a teacher myself I know that student safety is of paramount importance.

I reiterate that I know it is fantasy, but this is pushing the credibility too far.  Teenagers sneaking out of class and going into the woods on their own to follow a suspicious character and getting into trouble is one thing, but danger in the classroom is something else.

Despite these objections, I am grateful to authors like J.K. Rowling who has led the way in getting a whole generation to pick up a book.  It might just be that one day we will look back and view her as the saviour of the book.

So thank you J.K. Rowling and the rest of you.  Your contribution has been noted and appreciated.

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services 2019

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