Michael Harris, Canadian author of The End of Absence, wrote a thought-provoking piece in The Globe and Mail this weekend, entitled, “I Have Forgotten How to Read.” Harris suggests that, in large part because of social media, the manner in which we read has changed. As Harris writes, “Online reading makes me into a different kind of reader- a cynical one. I scrounge now, for the useful fact, I zero in on the shareable link. My attention- and thus my experience- fractures.”
I have had the same fractured experience as I scroll through my Twitter feed reading articles, liking and sharing. While I enjoy this and find I am learning a lot through those I follow, I don’t have the same sense of escape or calm feeling that I attain through reading books- and, in particular, fiction. When on holiday, I know I have truly relaxed if I have read a lot; a five or six-book vacation is heaven.
Harris’ piece reminded me of why I love reading. He concludes by writing, “Books have always been time machines, in a sense. Today, their time-machine powers are even more obvious- and even more inspiring. They can transport us to a pre-internet frame of mind. Those solitary journeys are all the more rich for their sudden strangeness.”
I think a lot of about the online experience, particularly for our girls as they grow and learn. I was grateful for the timing of Harris’ piece; it was after a wonderful event at St. Clement’s that highlighted important work our schools, librarians, staff and parents do to ensure that the reading of books is valued. St. Clement’s was the fortunate host of the Canadian National Kids’ Lit Quiz competition where eight teams of four students from schools across Canada were competing for a spot at the World Kids’ Lit Quiz competition in New Zealand in July.
Sitting in the audience on Thursday evening and watching students respond with great knowledge, excitement and enthusiasm to questions about literature was heartwarming- and it reminded me of several things. Firstly, while St. Clement’s was not in the finals, the passion for reading abounds at our School, and our girls are surrounded and encouraged by role models who love to get lost in a book. Secondly, regardless of the changes in how our girls are accessing information, we must always remind them of books and their ‘time-machine’ power.
Though Harris decries the fact that despite that his childhood “immersed in old-fashioned books” did not insulate him from “our new media climate,” he stills sees the immense value in books. I hope that we, the book lovers of yore, will continue to embrace books and encourage our students and children to do the same.