Americans should put reading on the top shelf

The Beacon editorial staff

Americans read all the time when it comes to Facebook posts, Twitter and Instagram captions all across the country.

The issue is, not many of these “reading” sessions are longer than the amount of time it takes to read 140 characters. When is the last time that an American adult read an actual book not required by some form of school?

A report released this year by the National Endowment for the Arts says that only 43 percent of American adults read a book that could be classified as literature in the past year. While that is a significant increase from previous years (the lowest being 14 percent in 2007), this has been attributed to the rise in cultural cache and significance regarding certain book series such as Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” and E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

Many people will use the standard excuses of “I don’t have time,” “It’s too expensive” or even “I’m too tired” to avoid reading. The problem is that these excuses can be nullified rather quickly.

Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook are two of the world’s best seller e-readers. Both boast about fast downloading speeds, Wi-Fi connections, small size and minimal weight. These devices are not only conducive to reading, but owners can download certain applications, a moderate amount of music and a number of games.

For those tech-savvy people with an iPad instead of the Kindle or Nook, the application iBooks serves the same purpose. Many books can be downloaded and stored, becoming transferable among all Apple devices you own.

Those who complain about having to carry around the device (the lightest Kindle weighing less 13.9 ounces) also no longer have a scapegoat. Smartphones like iPhone and Android both have Kindle and Nook applications that will wirelessly sync to your device at home. This way, on the way to work, readers can read five pages of a book, and then return home and open their actual e-reader device to the exact same spot that they left off during their commute.

These innovations in e-reader and smartphone technology eliminate the need for thousands of books on a shelf, taking up space in one’s home, car, bag or office.

The second issue people tend to complain about is cost. A brand new, hardcover book will set a reader back approximately $20, sometimes more. For that $20, the person may never pick up the book again, leaving it to gather dust and take up space on a shelf.

The good news is, this problem has also been solved. E-readers like Kindle now institute a “Lending Library,” where you can rent books for no charge for a certain amount of time. If you do not finish the book, readers can always re-rent the title. The time amount a reader has (usually 30 days) starts only when he or she starts the book, ensuring that the amount of time a reader gets with the book is fair.

In addition to the “Lending Library,” many classics can be downloaded free of charge from computers, Kindles, Nooks, iBooks and other programs. There are even sites on the Internet dedicated solely to providing free books to readers.

The last option isn’t new by any means, but it still works. Going to the local library in your town is still an option. Library cards are usually free or a very small amount of money and the cards are good for life. This way someone can take out books and read them relatively at his or her leisure.

“This is a much better option than an e-reader for some. A lot of people still like having the feeling of the pages between their fingers, the smell of books … it’s also inexpensive,” Librarian Jeanne Pearlman of the Osterhout Library said.

There is generally a large divide between people who pursue higher education compared to those who stop at high school when it comes to reading and literacy rates.  According to Suite 101, a site that publishes NEA reports, those who continue to focus on reading can increase their success in life.

“There have long been correlations recognized between reading and literacy rates and their impact on educational and financial success. Indeed, some have posited that the very nature of democracy in an increasingly complex and technologically advanced society is at risk if we lack educated, adaptive, logical thinkers. And while reading alone cannot guarantee flexible, energetic minds, the absence of such a fundamental cornerstone of thought development and information gathering harkens towards sobering predictions of intellectual decline.”

Reading can transport someone to another time and place by exciting the mind and giving the reader a break from reality. Even if a book isn’t required by school, pick up a good fiction and lose yourself.

For reading recommendations, look for The Book Report in the Beacon Blogs.