By TAMSYN LUNT
Today marks the annual celebration of World Book Day! We can all band together and bask in the glory of the classics. Of crime novels and fantasies. We can think fondly of the distinct smell of fresh chapters or of yellow-stained pages handled and enjoyed by so many people. But are we kidding ourselves? I hosted a dinner party a few weeks ago and, as conversations go, I began discussing the latest book I was reading. I didn’t expect too much of a reaction because, well, I am 22 years old and I have very little faith left in my generation when it comes to reading. I wasn’t, however, prepared for the response I received.
A girlfriend of a friend quite happily added to the discussion that she had “never read a book in her life”. Perplexed, I pushed her a little further on the subject, convinced that she was simply exaggerating. Not ever? Surely a school set-work book or the Twilight saga? “No, never. I have tried but I always get to the 12th page and decide that it’s incredibly boring and then I give up. ” Houston, we have a problem. Now, this is a smart girl. She maintained good marks at school and, by most people’s standards, studies a far more challenging and reputable degree than my own.
So what went wrong? Sadly, this intelligent and vibrant girl is a mirror image of the Y Generation. Older people like to believe that our reading interests haven’t disappeared, they have simply been adapted. They will insist that sure, young people don’t buy hard copies anymore but they are reading e-books on their iPads. The fact of the matter is, my generation is not reading at all. Zip. Nil. Nada. You might want to suggest that Facebook has replaced the traditional idea of reading material. Perhaps my generation is reading more information in shorter doses? But let’s face it, “my dog was to cute 2day, your goin too die!”, is not as stimulating as Stieg Larrson and it never will be. I don’t mean to put my generation down. I am happily a part of it and I think we have ideas that an older generation wouldn’t dream about.
And can you really blame my friend for not ever having read a book? She lives in a world of instant gratification. Why would she read the Life Of Pi when she can simply download the film and know just as much in a few hours as you could after weeks of dedicated reading? Time is no longer a luxury but a commodity. This saddens me. When I think about the friendship that books have always offered me, I want nothing more than to share that with my colleagues. But I need to be realistic. Someone cannot be forced to read a book and then expected to love it. The appreciation of books is something that has to be taught. We haven’t been very honest with ourselves if we think that World Book Day is a day to celebrate. Rather, we should look at it as the day when we consider what can be done for the future of books or, at the very least, reading. Not for the sake of the authors and the publishing houses that could one day be out of work, but because we know that reading books can bring an unending kind of joy. Identifying that we have a problem is only the first step.
Now, as a book-loving community, we need to think of a way forward. We need to teach and spread our passion for books to a generation who have given up before they even started. If we don’t, we might just be saying goodbye to World Book Day in only a matter of a few short years.
* Tamsyn Lunt is a postgraduate journalism student at Stellenbosch University.