TODAY’s article begins with a word that you may never have heard of: ‘aliteracy’. It is a word that even the version of Microsoft Word that I am using does not recognise.
It simply means “the quality or state of being able to read but [being] uninterested in doing so.” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition).
It is a trite reminder, if you have gone through the school system, that you need to read “very hard” to pass your examinations.
It has been so since the beginning of formal schooling. The trouble is that soon reading becomes associated with examinations.
So, it follows, that if there are no examinations then one should not read. That tends to define the implied lifestyle of many people after school. Reading has been made to look like a chore.
That we also have attention-grabbing media such as the television does not help much either. Estimates indicate that you will spend years in front of the television over the course of a lifetime.
It was the custom back where I lived for primary school leavers to burn all their books immediately after national examinations.
To them, it tended to be mostly a symbolic act. It symbolised that the person had now been set free from the yoke of having to read so hard.
It soon became evident that such an attitude led to poorer performance in high school. By the time someone is through with the schooling system, any love of reading has been completely destroyed.
That is why I would like to talk about aliteracy. Like French philosopher René Descartes once observed, when we take a book to read it is like ‘having a conversation with men of whatever breeding.’
In our emerging information age, it requires us to wade through tons and tomes of reading material. Often, all this reading can leave us mentally tired, with little energy to engage with any men of good breeding.
Then again like English philosopher Francis Bacon, some books are to be chewed and digested, which can take up an awfully long time! Still there are good reasons for developing a love of reading. Reading improves our abilities in three ways.
One, reading stimulates the imagination. It is popular to have television drama series based on novels. It has always occurred to me that when I read the novel, then watch the television production, my mind is always engaged in some sort of comparison.
Why do I say that? As I read the novel, my mind conjures up scenes based on my experiences, and so as I watch I am always looking for confirmation of what I conceived. That can do wonders for anyone’s critical thinking skills.
Secondly, reading develops verbal skills. It has been observed that sharp, articulate users of any language also tend to be very good readers. If therefore you want to grow your English vocabulary, then there are no shortcuts.
And I might perhaps add that television is a very poor substitute for improving verbal skills. Reading promotes patience. When watching television, hundreds of images flash across the screen in an instant.
All of these images leave the viewer with no time to reflect on what he is watching. This contributes to developing a short attention span.
Interestingly, this creates the same effects both in children and adults, the major effect being impulsiveness in decision making. Reading on the other hand requires patience. I
t is not always that information on a page flows in an intuitive manner. Reading requires that the reader handle a variety of mental decoding processes at the same time. So if you want your mind to atrophy, then don’t read anything at all!
This week I have just finished reading ‘The Audacity of Hope’, a book written by the sitting US President. It is a book in which the author shares with us his values, his love for his country, and his experiences in politics, especially at state level.
He develops his views on these and other subjects notably faith, race and religion. It becomes clear, especially as he develops his views on the roles of the US, that this is one man who knows the history of his country very well.
Maybe it comes from his background as a law professor. It is an interesting read, it helps you strip away all the hype to understand what Barack Obama really believes in.
The point being, that as you read, you might begin to see things from a completely different viewpoint. It perhaps becomes a much more educated viewpoint that does two things.
First, it broadens your understanding of issues, it opens you up to new choices never considered, even within your own community.
Second, based on the quality, it might just teach you something that will stand the test of time. So, go on, form a book club today and hopefully like Descartes said, begin to associate with men of good breeding.