I had almost forgotten what it was like. To feel my eyes widen at the seemingly infinite rows of shelves. To thumb through aged pages, breathing in that slightly grassy, slightly musty, and altogether addicting "old book smell." To smile that soft ghost of a smile as my fingers found a crease in the spine, the tell-tale sign of a story enjoyed by many. With a familiar blanket of comfort and nostalgia draped across my shoulders, I gazed around me. I took it all in, the avid readers who meticulously planned each selection, the novices who were just browsing, and the experts in the craft, those who created these pieces for us to enjoy. What we all had in common was our passion for literature, and I knew then that I belonged. I can't believe I had almost forgotten what it was like... to be a part of a community that cared about books.
One visit to the 12th Annual Kerrytown BookFest; that's all it took to spur this literary awakening and shed some light on a part of myself that has been dormant for far too long. Set in a quaint little district of Ann Arbor, Michigan, this festival of sorts celebrates the art of storytelling and everyone involved in the process. It's a melting pot of authors, illustrators, poets, calligraphers, and more, all coming together to share their love for literature.
It reminded me of my grade school years, where Scholastic Book Fairs were revered events. As I dusted through the cobwebs of these childhood memories, I distinctly remember spending hours over the catalogue, triple checking my selections with all the fervor and seriousness that an elementary school student could muster. I remember my friends and I sharing our books with each other, eager to discuss Junie B. Jones' latest escapades. Eventually, my taste for stories grew beyond Scholastic's 90 page average. I longed for those 500 page worlds into which I could escape until it was time to go home, back to reality. Where is that passion now? When did we trade chapters upon chapters for 140 character tweets? When did we trade actual stories for Snapchat stories? And why?
To read or not to read? That is the question, one that comes up during those middle school years when grades begin to take precedence over reading. I like to call this "the literary moment of truth." Most succumb to the illusion that reading, even for leisure, has become chore, a hunt for symbols and motifs. With sites like Sparknotes, Cliffnotes, and Shmoop, who really needs to read anymore? As long as we say what the teacher wants to hear we'll get an 'A', right? I couldn't help but notice that students cared much more about their success in math and science courses, consequently putting minimal effort into their english courses. But why was this mindset, this academic norm, acceptable?
The answer is surprisingly simple. We live in an age ruled by technology and innovation, both of which are rapidly revolutionizing society. It's only natural that people want to keep up with or be a part of this change. We've started to place more importance on quantitative skills (read: math and science), shoving them into the limelight. English and literature have been heckled off stage by jeers and errant tomatoes. Now, as a computer science major, I will be the first to gush about how awesome coding is, but that doesn't mean I value my verbal skills any less. The way I see it, being able to communicate innovative ideas is just as important as creating them.
A couple days ago, I came across a horrifying statistic. According to a recent poll taken by The Pew Research Center, 23% of American adults had not read a book in the past year. Let me rephrase that. Nearly a quarter of American adults have not so much as glanced over a page in a paperback or even swiped the screen of a Kindle. Unfortunately, no one is willing to spend time in a library when they can catch up on a few more episodes of Breaking Bad or House of Cards. Now, as a self-proclaimed Netflix binge-watcher, I'm no stranger to the thrill of devouring an obscene amount of television in one day. Sometimes, sitting around and vegetating is the best thing that we can do for ourselves when we need a break from life. I just believe that you can achieve the same effect by reading the right book. Reading is an experience, one that takes you alongside the characters, allowing you to feel what they feel, when they feel it. It questions the way you think by offering you a glance into the (fictional, but just as developed) minds of others. It shows you that personal growth is not optional. It's inevitable.
So tell me, and I want you to really think about it. If you haven't read today, why?