Last month, I read in the newspaper that 27 percent of adults polled in America hadn’t read a book in the past year. The newspaper reported that two adults out of the 1,003 polled gave the following reasons for not reading: “rather spend time in the backyard,” and “I just get sleepy when I read.”
Just as there are thousands of reasons for not reading, there are thousands of reasons for adult Austinites to read.
One is that we were held back from reading. Dating back to 1831, Virginia law made it illegal for any African-American, slave or free, to learn to read, and all meetings for the purpose of educating African-Americans were declared unlawful. Slave owners often whipped a slave if they knew he or she was trying to learn to read. A slave could be sold to another planation if he or she was caught reading.
In 1927, in Natchez, Miss., Richard Wright, the author of Native Son, was denied access to the city’s main library. The Jim Crow law of separate but equal was maintained at the time. He used a white co-worker’s library card and pretended to take out books for the co-worker. In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that involuntary busing could achieve school integration caused a decline in urban reading scores. My experience showed me that the school selected for my son was just as inferior or worse than the neighborhood school. When my sixth grade son was bused to an integrated school, his reading score dropped from 5.8 to 5.1 after one year.
Another important reason to read is personal growth. Reading certainly helps to widen our vocabulary. Instead of swearing, we can learn words that express our thoughts intelligently. Another way reading helps personal growth is that it answers questions such as, “Why do I think the way I do?” “Do I have obligations to other people?” “Why does crime exist?”
In addition, reading for pleasure expands our minds. We get to know characters just like us, and some who are very different. The choices these characters make help us to understand human nature and ourselves. Books like The Godfather, The Color Purple, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X tells us about people caught in the complexities of life and their outcomes.
The most significant reason is that reading improves our ability to become a more intelligent reader. Reading gives us the ability to think and understand and acquire knowledge. You might find you can’t wait to finish it and absorb all the ideas in it.
Last and best, the opportunity exists in our community for us to obtain books at little or no cost. There are several resale stores in Austin. One such store is the Salvation Army Thrift Store on Chicago Avenue, which carries a large variety of books. The prices range from 50 cents for soft covers, to $1.50 to $10 for hard covers. Garage sales normally have one or two tables of hardcover and paperback books. Because the seller wants to get rid of the books, you might get two free books for the price of one.
There is no charge for taking out books or to become a member in one of the book clubs at the Austin, West Chicago, or North Austin Library branches. The North Austin branch book club which I attend is absolutely free. Once a month, a book is selected and read by members, then discussed. A member can select a book to be read for the group. During the book discussion, you have the opportunity to tell others your opinion.
Keep a book on your nightstand. There are no laws or Supreme Court decisions that prohibit reading. It promotes personal growth, and reading is affordable. If you think reading is a waste of time, remember the saying, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”