when does intellectual curiosity stop?
- 58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
- 42% of college graduates never read another book.
- 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
- 70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
If you’re like me, you read that with a chill running down your spine. You read blogs, so you’re reading a lot. You like reading. You think other people ought to like to read.
One of my fondest childhood memories is reading “The Hobbit” along with my dad. We had a big illustrated edition – a lot of the cheesy Rankin-Bass stills, where Gollum looks like a frog – and he read it to me in installments. I don’t remember how many times we read it or how old I was, but I read “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy (on my own) before 3rd grade, so it was probably when I was 5 or 6. But my point is simple: I remember being almost insanely excited with the idea that another chapter was going to unfold. A picture would be painted in my mind – by me – and the next day another picture would be drawn. I would go to sleep in the bunk bed I shared with my brother, my mind filled with trolls and dragons and dwarves.
I read to my son a lot, and have done so since he was born. I’ve tried to with my daughter, with less success since every time I start to read to her my son runs over and insists on sharing (which means reading to HIM). But I think both kids have an early love of reading. I don’t read to them for any other reason than a long-term attempt to inspire a love of books in them. Books have been some of my truest and dearest friends throughout my life, and I think children need to learn early in their lives that a life can revolve around books without TV, video games or the internet.
Bubelah and I talked about intellectual curiousity this weekend, in relation to things I’ve said about a college education. I argue that for most people, college is a crutch. Their intellectual curiosity is sated by four years in college – they read, they take interesting courses, they graduate and 58% of them never read a book again. Bubelah thinks college is necessary for growth, and that college forces people to expand in ways they never would on their own. I say that college can only assist growth – intellectual curiousity, if someone has it, won’t stop with college. We didn’t decide the argument, but we did agree that there is no excuse to quit learning, ever.
I know my coworkers are weirded out that I sit and read a book in the office pantry while I eat lunch. They are doubly weirded out that I read history, or graphic novels, or fantasy/sci-fi. The idea of reading anything other than a newspaper or magazine seems trivial or immature to them. Even though I am not enamored of either of the major parties in the US, every time I hear someone (and it’s usually a Democrat) mocked for being “an intellectual” or “an elitist” I cringe. When did intellectual prowess or a curiosity about life become a characteristic to be mocked? I care about history, space exploration, politics, ethics, literature. I’m a pointy-headed intellectual – and I drink beer and love pro football, too.
Reading is the gateway to knowledge. Of course you can gain knowledge through experience, or discussion, or other avenues – but reading is so freely available and simple that it can only be deemed a great failure of any society that doesn’t encourage it as a core virtue. I’d like to see America become a place that’s proud of intellectual curiosity, but too often intellectual curiosity is mocked and belittled by people whose idea of culture is determined by TV executives. Knowledge should be a lifelong goal, not something satisfied by four years in college.