A few nights ago, my wife and I were visiting with some friends and somehow we got on the subject of literature, specifically the books we read in High School years ago. We compiled quite a list including: “Across Five Aprils” by Irene Hunt, “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, “Madame Curie” by Eve Curie, “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville, “The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck, “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare, “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway, “The Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane, “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and “The Yearling” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. I’m sure I have forgotten others mentioned that evening, but I think you get the idea.

I don’t think we could point at any of these books and say there was a personal favorite among them. As for me, I found Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” particularly interesting and devoured the book hoping to find a happy ending. I didn’t. It was all rather depressing. Even though I understood the book’s message, I stopped reading Steinbeck after that. The point is, like so many High School students, we drudged through the reading and even though we would hit a dud now and then, we were all glad to have read the books. I think this is due in part to our love of literature. When we were kids, we relished visiting the library or have our parents read to us at night. Each year our elementary school would sponsor a book fair and we would gobble up what we could. By the time we entered high school in the late 1960’s, the book bug had already bitten us.

I’ve read a lot of books since then, but I cannot say I am as voracious a reader as my wife or mother who seem to digest books on a weekly basis. I find my time is more limiting so I tend to be more careful what I read. If a book doesn’t grab my attention in the first few pages, forget it; I don’t need another “Grapes of Wrath.” When I was younger, I was more inclined to read novels, my favorite being “Shogun” by James Clavell, but as I became older my interests gravitated towards nonfiction, specifically history and biographies.

Because of my upbringing, I thought it was important to read to my children at night and took them to the library. Although they were good students, I don’t know if they were bitten by the same book bug, and I suspect a lot of people from Generations X/Y/Z followed suit. This puzzles me greatly. I just don’t see the love of reading anymore.

I believe a large part of the problem is the physical format of literature today. Whereas our generation was accustomed to hard bound or soft bound books, youth is more familiar with computer or cell phone screens today. The Internet, e-books and eZines have taken its toll on the printed word which is why paper is no longer king. It also explains why trade journals have disappeared, subscriptions to newspapers and magazines have greatly diminished, and we now see a rise in electronic book readers like the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook. Do such devices truly encourage leisurely reading as paperbacks did? I doubt it. Nonetheless, it is a fact of life.

Locally, a High School in our area is conducting an experiment for the county school system whereby they are eliminating all text books and replacing them with Amazon Kindles. In theory, it represents a cost effective solution but the real question is their readability. If this experiment results in impairment of student scores and grades, look for it to be dropped like a hot potato. If it’s successful though, I’ll be curious to see how it affects the love of literature by the students. My thinking is they will be more inclined to watch the movie “The Grapes of Wrath” on their iPods as opposed to reading it on their Amazon Kindles.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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