Do you ever despair the ubiquity of digital gadgets these days? How often do you encourage your husband to unplug from the game console, or does he have to remind you to put away your mobile phone and get off Facebook? Do you ever wonder how the Jones family next door manages to ferry three kids to six different organized sports each week? Do you laud your childhood as golden years of exploration and adventure, hours of hide and seek, endless games of marbles, jail break, or capture the flag? Do you ever feel guilty now, as a grown up, when you spend a couple of hours on a rainy Saturday, lost in a book?
Me too! Well, except for the husband and children bit. I do, however spend a lot of time thinking about the ramifications of overly-organized childhoods, image-rich video games, and the compulsive avoidance of boredom.
For those of you who love to read and would appreciate a little affirmation of the goodness of the pastime, and for those of you who wonder how to juggle your children’s structured verses free time, I offer you these excerpts from an article I read today at work, and when I read it, was tempted to jump on the desk singing a slightly off-key though full of gusto rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus. The article comes from the School Library Journal, March 2012. It is titled Why read: the essential link between literacy and the imagination, by Sven Birkerts. I hope you will glean some useful nuggets from what follows.
“A book was to me, then, as now, a token of possibility, of privacy and self-containment. My greatest joy, then, as now, was to find a place away from others, to be alone and have it happen again, the renewable miracle: to feel the world I live in start to slowly recede while at the same time another, different world builds itself more and more distinctly around me.”
That doesn’t happen in films “because I’m not an agent in the production on screen, and what I’m watching is not saturated with my own perceptions and recognitions the way that any book I read is.”
“Imaginings. That’s the word I’m looking for – or else imagination. When I think of how childhood reading might be changing, it’s this one human attribute that I worry about most. What is the impact of digital media, and the rapidly morphing culture surrounding it, on the child, on childhood, on the distinguishing feature of the child’s mentality: imagination? This is why I think about reading. Because it’s one of the main channels to imagination; and because it is, when practiced, a fostering practice, a safeguard.”
“If childhood was once – as I believe it was – vast with undivided time, and prey on occasion to profound boredom, it is no longer. The question is only which distraction to pursue, which game, which person or people to contact. Time is subdivided as never before, and from the parsing comes surficiality. Simply: penetration of any subject, or elaboration of any thought or intuition, requires sustained attention. And sustained attention needs time.”
“Imagination is languorous and exploratory. It muses and mulls, requires an atmosphere of freedom.”
“What is the argument we make for reading and daydreaming and cultivating inner resonances? I would say, to put it in the simplest terms, that imagination nourishes the primal self. As much as our skills and practical accomplishments bolster a sense of independent identity, imagination fills out the inner counterpart. It consolidates the “I’ by making plausible the other. Imagination enables empathy, and imagination exercised through reading, through the world of inhabiting the language and sensibilities of created characters – and of course the author herself – pushes continually against the solecism fed to us by a marketing industry selling consumption as the index of our worth.”
“Reading enlists the concentration as well as the focus. It takes one kind of time, but it then repays us with another. Which is the time of the inside life, which we so easily forget is the axis on which everything else turns.”