Last summer PBS launched an initiative called THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, a six month poll to find the novel most beloved by Americans. They invited 7,200 people representing a geographical cross section of America to nominate their favorite novel. The public was invited to cast their ballots for their most loved novel, perhaps one they have read and re-read. Participants could vote for one book, once a day, as many times as they liked.
Four million votes were cast in a six-month period!
For the critics who say that “no one reads anymore”, or “technology has wiped out the readers in the world” the response to this project provides a boost to the reading community.
While it is true that technology, in particular the internet and social media, has captured the time and attention of millions of people worldwide, there still seem to be vast numbers of readers — of all ages!
And why books of fiction?
The books nominated may be works of a writer’s imagination but often they reflect the experiences and influences on a writer. In many cases, they appear to be deeply autobiographical but written as fictional novels rather than straight memoir.
What need does reading fulfill?
Over and over again, the participants interviewed for the PBS series spoke about a book that described their own world, characters they identified with and provided an outlet for their own questions, worries or fears. The characters of these novels presented models, echoing these readers’ concerns, perhaps validating their own feelings or experience.
For some readers, a novel opens a world far different from their own. Through reading one can take a voyage to a distant part of the world, or understand how people from a different time and place interacted with the world and struggled through timeless problems.
What value does the reading experience provide?
Reading allows us to understand how other people think, feel and react, sometimes people very different from ourselves. Yet the best books reveal universal truths about human behavior. The obstacles, human errors, struggles and sometimes the happy endings, can give inspiration.
In a world with more challenges and questions than definite paths and answers, reading about people’s histories, failures and successes provides comfort as well as direction. Don’t we all need hope?
If you loved reading as a child, or even if you didn’t, pick up half a dozen books at your library, download samples on your e-reader or browse in a local bookstore and perhaps you’ll find one that will change your thinking — maybe even change your life.
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