Last night on the news they showed a remote Afghan village where the iliteracy rate was 95%. By anyone’s measure, that’s a tragedy. But here in America we have a different problem–aliteracy. We have a growing body of people who can read, but choose not to.

In 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts issued a report outlining improvement in literacy in children, but found actual reading dropping off sharply among teens and adults. In an instant society, we’d rather watch a movie than devote the time needed to read the same story.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but this is troubling on a couple levels. Watching a movie is not the same experience as reading the book. When we read, we must bring something to experience–our imaginations. The words on the page are only the jumping off place. The reader must collaborate with the author to create the fictive world of the story.

A movie or TV show simply washes over us fully formed. It’s a totally passive activity. We don’t have to think about it. We just let it in without examination.

I’d like to propose a return to an old practice. Reading aloud. It was a common activity in the Regency era. Whole families enjoyed the same story, creating a bond and even a private language during the shared experience. We did a lot of reading aloud when our kids were little. To this day when one of my daughters says something about “scope for the imagination” I know we owe that idea to Anne of Green Gables.

Well, that’s fine for kids, I hear you saying. But it’s really fine for adults as well. A good friend of mine reads aloud to her husband every night. What a great way to bond with the one you love! I’ve read my writing aloud to my DH as part of the final review, but usually my DH and I engage in “tandem reading.” He’s got his techno-thriller. I have my romance. But now I’m wondering what would happen if we started reading together for pleasure.

Any suggestions for the first book we should try?

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