Young People Ask . . .
FIFTEEN-year-old Pierre rarely reads. “Of course, I do read comic books,” he says, “and sometimes dragster magazines.” But other than that, his reading is mostly confined to assignments at his Paris school.
What about you? Could it be that reading, even a short article such as this, is a tedious ordeal? If so, you are not alone. The French TV weekly Télérama said, under the title “Read? You’ve Got to Be Kidding!”: “Here is what [youths surveyed] had to say about reading. They were very frank. They read very little, if at all, for the simple reason that they find it boring.” The article drew the dismal conclusion: “Hardly one in three can truly be termed a reader.”
‘What difference does it make?’ you may ask. A great deal, for as 18th-century writer Sir Richard Steele stated: “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” And while you may take for granted this ability to scan a page of print and make sense of it, scientists are baffled by this remarkable skill. Reading involves such enormously complex interaction of eye and brain that a scientist was quoted in the magazine Science Digest as saying: “On the basis of computer models, we would predict that the eye can’t read.” Yet it does . . . speedily and efficiently.
But reading is far more than a scientific curiosity. It opens the doors of your intellect and imagination. Without leaving your armchair you can be transported to the ends of the earth, meet exciting people, ponder eloquent poems, digest new and stimulating ideas, analyze current events and relive history. Far more importantly, however, reading is the key to understanding the Bible. Only by reading it can you know why we are here, where we are going and what we must do now to please God.
The Bible therefore encourages us to read—and read well! Joshua, who had the massive assignment of leading God’s people into the Promised Land, was told to ‘read God’s Law in an undertone day and night.’ (Joshua 1:8) Kings of Israel were likewise told to make a copy of God’s Law and ‘read in it all the days of their life, in order that they might learn to fear Jehovah their God so as to keep all the words of his Law and these regulations by doing them.’ (Deuteronomy 17:19) Is such reading any less important for you today?
Why They Do Not Like to Read
Nevertheless, many youths approach the reading of a book with loathing. And some educators blame the way reading is taught in school. Perhaps you recall the monotony of reciting dull, lifeless “See Dick run”-type sentences when you were learning to read. Say researchers who spoke with over 300 children: “Without exception, the children complained about how stupid the stories in their basic readers had been, and said how much they had hated having to read them. . . . These books are an insult to the child’s intelligence.” Matters may have improved little as you got older because you were then probably subjected to reading the so-called classics—books that for all their style seemed horribly dull or hard to understand. Reading thus became a dreaded chore.
Nevertheless, if you are not an avid reader, schools may only be partly to blame. In the Télérama survey mentioned earlier, 21 percent of those interviewed explained their boredom with reading by saying: “I prefer watching television.” With what effect? The report of the National Institute of Mental Health (United States) says: “The evidence now supports the opinion that heavy television viewing tends to displace time required to practice reading, writing, and other school-learning skills. . . . Television on the whole also seems to interfere with educational aspirations.”
What has been the effect of all of this? An article in the International Herald Tribune stated: “A growing number of students across the country now arrive at high school without the reading skills necessary to study history, and over the last two decades history has virtually disappeared as a distinct subject in American high schools.” The 1979 Ford Foundation report similarly concluded that 25 million Americans cannot read at all and 35 million more could be considered functionally illiterate.
But is reading all that necessary in our television and computer age? Yes, indeed! Why, a person unable to read and fill out a job application often cannot even get a job as a manual laborer! And will even the most efficient of computers ever replace the human imagination? Reading stimulates your imagination by forcing you to visualize what you read. But as 12-year-old Debbie puts it, “TV doesn’t leave much room for the imagination.” And while TV can be educational, do you not still need books and magazines when you need specific information? Does TV allow you to stop and reread something you did not understand or reflect upon some impressive point? And even if computers seem more interesting than books, will you ever learn to operate one without a book of instructions?
So the ability to read continues to be an important part of life. And those whose reading abilities are so poor they cannot decipher a cookbook recipe or a simple bus schedule are at a serious disadvantage. It is so serious that one educator concluded: “Illiteracy is really a much greater functional handicap than is the loss of limbs.”
Improving Your Reading
Knowing that you should read doesn’t make it easier, however. Becoming a proficient reader takes a lot of work. For example, you might know someone who plays the guitar well. Did you ever stop and think about how many hours of practice it took him to reach that stage? Just knowing how to produce notes or even knowing how to read music was not enough. He had to acquire speed and dexterity by doing exercises and practicing the scales. Hard work? Yes. But he has no regrets over the time spent.
Similarly, simply making out words is not sufficient to be a good reader. The French weekly L’Express showed, for example, that it is a “handicap” for anybody to be unable to read “a test adapted to his age at less than 8,000 to 10,000 words an hour.” (Don’t let this seemingly impressive pace worry you, for you are probably reading this article at least that fast.) On the other hand, if you do not read fast enough (a minimum of 150 words a minute*), you will find yourself laboring over words instead of analyzing ideas. And if you continually have to regress because of losing the line of thought, you will find reading heavy going.
The trick, therefore, is to widen your eye span and read several words at a time. Refuse to let your eyes stop at each word. Don’t silently mouth the words, as this is sure to slow you down. (Of course, at times, reading “in an undertone” is quite appropriate, as when digesting Scriptural material.) As you read, ask yourself if you understand what you are reading. Compare it with what you have learned about the subject from other sources. This will help you to maintain your interest and concentration.
Proper surroundings are also important. Sitting in a cozy armchair with music blaring from your stereo is not the way to tackle difficult reading matter; nor is a stuffy room ideal. Try, instead, a table that has been cleared of anything that might distract, and a chair that will keep you alert.
The American philosopher H. D. Thoreau wrote: “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.” That could soon be true in your case, especially should you acquire a taste for reading ‘the Book of books,’ God’s Word, the Bible. (1 Peter 2:2) It will take time—and effort. But it is well worth it!
If you are able to read this article within 8 minutes, you are reading at a rate of about 11,000 words an hour (187 words a minute)!
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Reading opens up vast fields of knowledge and allows you to become acquainted with your Creator
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Attempting to read in a setting that is too distracting or too relaxing can be counterproductive