Archives For Leisure

Slipping into Illiteracy

November 2, 2016 — 7 Comments

no-readingIs it worse to be illiterate, or simply to not take advantage of your ability to read? Mark Twain is errantly credited with this wise statement: “The person who does not read has no advantage over someone who cannot read.”*

I would take this a step further. It seems to me that illiteracy need not mean the inability to read. It can also be used to describe those who choose not to read.

And, in the United States at least, we’re on a downhill slide when it comes to how much time people spend reading each day. Reading that’s not related to their jobs or educational requirements.

The data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which examines in minutiae how citizens spend their time. The most recent American Time Use Survey reveals the disturbing trend.

reading-graphicThe descent begins at the precipice, where those who are seventy-five years old or older enjoy reading for an average one hour and forty-eight minutes each day. It slams to the ground for those fifteen to nineteen who devote only thirteen minutes to leisure reading.

Amazingly, that group is not the worst. Those who are twenty to twenty-four read nearly 8% less than they do, clocking in with a mere twelve minutes. The grim details are available here.

Obviously, we may assume that older people have more leisure time. A second consideration may be that their constitutions are not up to some more physically demanding activities. To minimize the effect of the “workday” influences, the numbers cited above come from weekends or holidays

But even combined, these factors cannot account for the radical differences we see. Younger people are simply not reading.

Too Little Reading

C.S. Lewis wrote a great deal about reading. He regarded it as one of the essential joys of life. He may not have been surprised by these statistics, but he would certainly have been aghast. I have written in the past about Lewis’ views on literacy in “Knowing Our ABCs.”

For Lewis and, I suspect, many readers of Mere Inkling, the desire was always to find more time for reading. In a 1919 letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, he cited the inescapable dangers of reading too little.

If only one had time to read a little more: we either get shallow & broad or narrow and deep.

Lewis was also familiar with demands of responsibilities that devour our time and leave little for leisure of any sort. In another letter to Greeves, written eleven years later, he describes this predicament. I share it here at length because it also offers an insight into the role of reading in nurturing his reawakening faith.

All private reading has ceased, except for 20 minutes before bed (if alone) when I drink a cup of cocoa and try to wash the day off with MacDonald’s Diary of an Old Soul. I shall soon have finished it and must look round for another book.

Luckily the world is full of books of that general type: that is another of the beauties of coming, I won’t say, to religion but to an attempt at religion—one finds oneself on the main road with all humanity, and can compare notes with an endless succession of previous travellers. It is emphatically coming home: as Chaucer says “Returneth home from worldly vanitee.”

Reading can clearly be good for the soul. And it has another benefit that even unbelievers celebrate. It breaks through the isolation that plagues human life. Technology, it appears, is not delivering on its promise to dispel loneliness.

Reading, in contrast, possesses for many that very power. And a quotation frequently misattributed to Lewis,** but clearly consistent with this beliefs, captures this truth.

We read to know that we are not alone.

_____

* Although Twain is commonly cited as the originator of this phrase, the earliest written parallel appears to be a 1910 publication in which the Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction wrote: “Who can see the barely perceptible line between the man who can not read at all and the man who does not read at all? The literate who can, but does not, read, and the illiterate who neither does nor can?”

** On the internet you will frequently find these words attributed to Lewis, and in a sense they do come from his lips. It comes from the television film Shadowlandswritten in 1985 by William Nicholson for BBC.

The image at the top of the page comes from this interesting video with a unique contemporary twist on reading:

A New Motorcycle Memory

February 27, 2014 — 13 Comments

sidecarI witnessed the ending of a life last night. It wasn’t stolen by disease. Nor did it gently surrender to the passage of many decades.

A healthy man, in the prime of his life, died tragically in a traffic accident. The vehicles involved did not appear to have been traveling particularly fast . . . but one was a truck, and the other a motorcycle.

I have many friends who absolutely love their bikes. That includes the fine deputy who I was riding with last night as we responded to the crash. My friends are all smart enough to wear helmets, just as the victim in this case was doing.

I have never personally longed to experience the freedom of riding a motorcycle on the open road. That doesn’t mean I think less of those who do. On the contrary, many of the people whose company I most enjoy consider riding bikes a blast.

I only hope that my grandchildren don’t.

I have no desire to rob my grandkids of any of the joy that life can offer—I’m just cautious and protective by nature.

Several of my friends have been in serous motorcycle accidents. Fortunately, all survived. And they have one more thing in common—none of the incidents was their fault.

As I looked at the bike, crushed beneath the front of the truck, I said a prayer for the rider whose family will never see him again. And as I gazed toward the driver of the truck, I prayed for him too, knowing that his own life would never be the same.

Like money, which is not the root of all evil (the love of money is) . . . so too, it is not motorcycles themselves that are intrinsically dangerous. They just happen to leave their riders so terribly vulnerable when the drivers of more massive vehicles fail to see them.

C.S. Lewis rode in motorcycles. I say “in,” because he was accustomed to riding in the sidecar of his brother Warnie’s cycle. The familiar account of his final conversion from theism to Christianity involves one such ride, to the Whipsnade Zoo. As Lewis wrote, “When we set out I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.”

The following diary entries from April 1924 relate to enjoying rides while on holiday. The shorthand “W” stands for his brother, Warnie. The “D” for Mrs. Jane King Moore, the mother of a close friend who died in WWI. The passage illustrates how at home Lewis was when traversing the countryside with his brother.

In the afternoon W generally read: I often went out to get something, or else read and wrote. After tea all three of us went for a most excellent ride in divine weather. We rode through Yatton and Wrington into the Mendips, passing within sight of D’s well beloved Winscombe—a steeple on a hillside seen for a moment in the heart of a beautiful long ridged wooded crooked country. After that we ran through a small gorge out on to the barer southern slope of the Mendips and down into the narrow little streets and beetling houses of Axbridge—glory! what a town and how placed!

Thence on to Cheddar by a road that skirts the hills. Here I saw many fields and trees quite white with blossom and daisies. At Cheddar we caught sight of the gorge up to our left quite unexpectedly: and then while I was still in a confused impression—the speed of a motor cycle is sometimes a great aesthetic advantage—W suddenly turned and ran up it. I lay back in the side car and watched the huge coloured cliffs pushing up further round us and closer till it seemed like going into a tunnel. I was quite unprepared for anything of the sort. It was a great moment.

We turned on our tracks and went on to Wells. Just before reaching it we turned off left at a signpost “To Wookey Hole” to find some quiet pub where we cd. eat our lunch. The lane wound on so long that we began to fear that Wookey Hole was a natural feature, a devil’s punch bowl or the like, and not a village. A village however it turned out to be, with a pub where we sat on a curiously comfortless bench and ate our sandwiches and drank cider.

We then went back and into Wells where W was charged 6d. for leaving the bike in Wells Square by the town authorities, who however “took no responsibility of any sort” for it. W was delighted with the outside of the Cathedral but less pleased with the interior. I think I agreed with him. I also agreed with his view that King’s Chapel, Cambridge, is the perfect building. We then strolled all round the Palace talking of all things that arose therefrom—Barchester, abbots, mediaeval siege tactics. Our ease and freedom and pleasant chat made this visit to Wells far better than my first when I came here on the motor tour with my father and the Hamiltons. In many ways W is the ideal person to go for a jaunt with . . .

On Saturday 26th we all came back to Oxford. It had been arranged that I shd. travel in the sidecar. It was obvious that one of us shd. do so to save fares and D, of course, refused to be that one. I therefore trained with her to Yatton and saw her into a through train to Bristol with the luggage, and W, Pat and I got aboard the bike. As we were making all snug outside Yatton station, a hamper, wh. had just been taken out of the train, was suddenly opened just beside us to release a cloud of pigeons that filled the air with an amazing noise before we knew what was forward. It was a curious experience for I had not suspected the hamper of containing anything live.

It was raining when we started but soon cleared up. We got into the main road shortly before Wrington and entered Bristol by Bedminster… From Faringdon we came along at a very good speed thro’ Bickland, Kingston Bagpuize, Fyfield, Bessels, Leigh, Cumnor and Botley to Oxford. It is a tame, well combed, cheerful country of tidy well growing woods, white gates, dark tarred roads, comfortable cottages, sometimes exceedingly beautiful, green hedges and flat blue distances. The speed, the sunlight, and the sense of coming home put me into an unusually prolonged fit of “joy.”

As Lewis says, “the speed [and] the sunlight” of a motorcycle trip can surely be exhilarating. Likewise, “the speed of a motor cycle is sometimes a great aesthetic advantage.” Clearly, C.S. Lewis enjoyed motorcycles greatly.

But I still hope my grandchildren are not seduced by motorcycles’ allures.