by Melvin Durai
I want to begin this column by thanking you for being a reader. There are so many better things you could be doing with your time, and I’m truly grateful, absolutely thrilled, that you haven’t yet discovered them.Well, perhaps you have, but you’ve decided to take an occasional break from playing video games, chatting on your cell phone, and searching the Internet for pictures of Clay Aiken.
Reading is an important activity, whether you’re reading a humor column or reading the back of David Beckham. Reading can educate, entertain and inspire you. There’s really no substitute. That’s what I keep telling my wife.
Me: “Reading is so much fun, you know.”
Wife: “Really? Then why don’t you turn off the TV and read something?”
Me: “I am reading, silly. Can’t you see the scroll at the
But I don’t just read television, I also read books, a few dozen a year. Just last week, I completed two: “Green Eggs and Ham” and “Red Riding Hood.” My wife was amazed.
Unfortunately, not everyone is a prolific reader like me. According to a report from the National Endowment for the Arts, only 57 percent of American adults read a book in 2002, compared with 61 percent in 1992. This is shocking news to me, because I thought everyone in America reads at least one Harry Potter book per year.
And what about the impact of Oprah’s book club? I thought she was doing wonders for reading, talking about books the same way she talks about food: “I couldn’t put this down. I just devoured it. I’m telling you, it was irresistible.”
Perhaps Oprah’s show does not reach enough young people. Only 43 percent of people aged 18 to 24 read literature in 2002, compared with 53% in 1992. Literature includes poems, plays, and narrative fiction, but does not, alas, include rap lyrics. Otherwise most teen-agers would be literary prodigies.
The NEA blames television, the movies, and the Internet for the decline in reading. But the Internet also promotes reading. On any given day, just by going online, I can read newspapers from around the world, blogs on various subjects, and email from wealthy Nigerians.
It’s important to recognize that the younger generation reads in different ways. To fully understand their reading habits, we need to ask them questions like these:
—How often do you read? (a) Every day; (b) At least once a week; (c) Every time I use the bathroom; (d) Whenever Halley’s Comet comes around; or (e) Me no read.
—What is your favorite thing to read? (a) Newspapers; (b) Books; (c) My father’s will; (d) Bumper stickers; or (e) Stories about Clay Aiken.
—Who is your favorite writer? (a) J.K. Rowling; (b) Bill Clinton; (c) David Letterman (I love his Top Ten lists); (d) My insurance agent; or (e) Whoever wrote the directions on my acne cream.
I conducted a similar survey and discovered that the best way to get young people to read my column is to have it printed on the back of women’s shorts. It’s a fashion trend — young women wearing shorts with words printed on the back, apparently believing that men need another reason to look. But I give these women credit: They’re not trying to attract ordinary, run-of-the-mill men — they’re trying to attract men who read.
If he can read your shorts, perhaps one day he’ll be able to read your mind. You never know.
(Melvin Durai is an India-born, North America-based writer and humorist. His humour columns, acclaimed for being both funny and thought-provoking, have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines in several countries, including the United States, India and Zambia.)