Last Wednesday, I was driving home from dropping my kids at school and passed a girl in her mid-twenties who caught my attention. She was dressed like she might be going to work or classes with a backpack strapped over both shoulders and she walked briskly, but the entire time I watched her, she never looked up once. Even though she was on a sidewalk that could have been uneven. Even though she was beside a busy road. She was totally immersed in a book.
It was a good-sized one - maybe four hundred pages - and she wasn't very far in, but it must have been great because she was so focused I could almost see the story-world unfolding in her mind. I wished I could see what book it was, but she'd taken the dust jacket off and there was no title, only the black binding underneath.
All the way home, I thought about her. I used to do that same thing - have my nose buried in a book as I walked back from the library when I was a kid. Or when I rode the bus to work or on my lunch breaks. I realized how rarely I see people doing that.
I wanted to go back and tell that girl how awesome it was that she was so into her book, but that would have been weird. Instead, I decided to tweet pictures of any people I saw reading as a small homage to the love of books.
It took me five days to find another one.
I actually saw three people reading all on that same day and I was like phew! because I was starting to make all kinds of excuses like its getting cold here and no one would be sitting outside with a book and I'm driving around a lot and the other adults are too and so of course none of them would be reading. But, of course, I saw plenty of people poking at their phones at bus stops and other places.
But this girl was happily reading at her brother's soccer game. She even called a friend over to show her the book. And I saw a boy around the same age, sitting up a hill and reading with his much younger sister by his side. And another boy reading a Star Wars graphic novel. And each of them gave me a little warm fuzzy feeling. Thank you, readers. You are awesome.
Afterward, I looked up some articles and statistics and, I probably shouldn't have been surprised by what they said, but I was:
- Over the past 20 years, the percentage of 17-year-olds who read nothing at all for pleasure has doubled, yet the amount they read for school or homework has stayed the same.*
- About a third of 13-year-olds read for pleasure less than twice a year.
- Children who read for pleasure do significantly better in school and made more progress in math, vocabulary and spelling between the ages of 10 and 16 than those who rarely read**
- Less than half (48%) of American adults read for pleasure*
- Parents are the most important reading role models for children.*** Yikes.
Can you imagine that...reading nothing for pleasure? I'm trying to picture who I would be if I didn't read for pleasure growing up. Or now.
All three of the people I saw reading were kids and I wonder how long it will be until I see another adult, like the girl I saw walking last week.
I'm going to keep looking for people like her, the ones who always have a book in their bag and sneak it out in spare minutes to dive back into the world of a story. I know they're still out there and when I find them, I'm going to give them my own small you're awesome on twitter.
If you're on twitter, please join me and post your pictures, too (#randompeoplereading & #readersareawesome).
And, as the gifting holidays approach, please consider giving BOOKS to people on your list. Even the non-readers. Maybe especially them.
One of my friends recently told me it was only when she read a YA book as an adult that she realized reading could be fun. Sometimes it just takes finding one book that resonates. If you're not sure what books to give, nearly any independent bookstore where the staff knows books inside and out, can help.
*National Endowment for the Arts – “To Read or Not to Read”, corroborated by “Adult Literacy in America” a report from the National Center for Educational Statistics, 2007
**University of London, IOE study
***National Literacy Trust, Reaching Out with Role Models, April 2009