Reading life


Our western society is nothing if not a society of the written word. Just think about it:

We spend our days online, we text on our phones with friends and family, we write and read blogs, newspapers, e-mails… And this is even more true for me, a self-declared bookworm, who values her Goodreads account much more than my Facebook… And the reading doesn’t stop there… Hoping to live a bit more healthily, I read contents lists on things I buy, I read labels on clothes, before I buy or wash them… I read the little papers in all the boxes of pills or vitamines I bring from the pharmacy.

And reading for pleasure? I read my kindle while I walk, while I cook (cutting vegetables while reading is risky, but I still do it sometimes – stealing precious little moments of “me time” where I can), I read in the tub and I more and more often read at night (in secret – and in the dark on my iPad with low luminosity) while holding my little one’s hand when she has trouble falling asleep while she is sick.

Books are my second largest spending item after food – way before anything else, like clothes or make-up…

No wonder that my daughter who is not yet two counts her storybooks among her most prized possessions. As her father says – it’s normal, she sees us reading all the time, and our house is full of books and newspapers and magazines…so she is naturally interested in these magic objects that can make a story come alive…

That’s why when listening to the radio interview in the car the other day on the way to kindergarten (one of the few times I don’t read !), and faced with the question asked to the interviewee – If you had to choose, what would you pick – deaf or blind?  – I for one did not hesitate a second.

Reading is so much part of my life, of my day, of my work, of my personality, I can’t imagine life without it… And yet, there are many who get by without it.

There are people among us, and they are many more than we think, for whom reading is not a pleasure, but a chore, or even an impossibility. Because even in our heavily “textualised” societies, there are still many people who can’t read. True, the “full analphabets” are quite rare. However, there is a secret(ive) group of people who are – for all intents and purposes – functional analphabets. They know their ABC’s yes, but they don’t read and have difficulties understading even a simple text – like a newspaper article, filling a form, writing a short text about anything. They can be people who dropped out of school early, people who suffer from learning disability that has not been identified early enough and have accumulated handicaps in school, or people who live a sheltered life where they deploy extraordinary strategies to hide their inability to read. They ask others to read things for them, saying that they don’t have their glasses on them for example.

And than there are these other “cool analphabets” that “can read but don’t” – instead they watch movies and youtube. It’s those people who never read a book since high school compulsory reading (such a drag!) and who have no books at home and always tell me when they come visit – wow, you do have a lot of books! – after seeing only one of our many bookcases (and believe me we still don’t have enough). If they read at all, they limit themselves to glossy magazines, because these are cool… Don’t expect them to lend you the latest Murakami or even know where their local library is.

But although I recognize that people like that exist and as much as I feel for the first two groups and silently despise and mock the “cool non-readers” (oh yes, I am a “reading snob”), there is a last group I actually fear – and these are the people (unfortunately, they seem to be many more in the world lately) who have read only one book. Because these are the really dangerous ones.

P.S. Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book. (Author Unknown)



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