by Father Mark Goldasich
Let’s start with a riddle from Isaac Asimov, the prolific science fiction writer and professor of biochemistry at Boston College:
If you could build a small package, something small enough to carry in your coat pocket, a machine which would instantly start and stop, in which you could instantly reverse yourself or go forward, which would require no batteries or other energy sources, and which would provide you with full information on an entire civilization, what would you have?
The answer, of course, is: a book!
It’s safe to say I have an addiction to books. If you visited my home, you’d be hard pressed to find a room without a “stack” of them. Perhaps because I was an only child, books were a ready and constant companion for me growing up. While other kids were playing baseball or going swimming in the summertime, I was content to sit on the front porch immersed in a good book.
An ideal day for me was getting lost in the stacks of the public library or shopping at Waldenbooks at the mall. Being surrounded by so much knowledge was intoxicating.
Just for fun, I wanted to find out some recent statistics about reading. The results, according to the website Golden Steps ABA, were sobering:
• The average reading level of American adults is eighth grade.
• 21% of Americans read below a fifth-grade level.
• 44% of American adults do not read at or above a basic level.
• 28% of Americans have not read a book in the past year.
• The United States ranks 17th in the world in reading proficiency.
• Sadly, 61% of low-income families have no books at all in their homes.
If you doubt the validity of the above numbers, spend time reading comments on Facebook. It’s enough to make you cry. In addition to terrible spelling and grammar, many posts lack verifiable facts and common decency.
I was thrilled to read our center spread in this week’s Leaven, on pages 8 and 9. The educators interviewed there are seeking to reverse the trend of functional illiteracy. It’s comforting to know that children are being read to and encouraged to read aloud both in class and at home. These children are gaining an appreciation for books — not only as a source of knowledge but as a fun activity.
And God bless Dolly Parton’s program for making books available, especially for those who could otherwise not afford them.
Although I use a Kindle and listen to audiobooks while driving, I can’t deny there’s nothing as satisfying as a good, old-fashioned physical book. One of the teachers interviewed was spot-on in saying that it’s healthy for kids to step away from time spent on screens.
The same can be said for adults. How about making a Lenten resolution this year to “fast” from screen time every day and “feast” on reading? A great place to start is with The Leaven, especially during this Catholic Press Month. And it’s portable!
Or pick up a spiritual book to read during Lent. Many parishes have libraries, so make a point to check out what — free — books they have to offer. Ask your pastor, ministry director or librarian for suggestions. Or stroll through a Catholic bookstore and be amazed at the variety of topics available.
If you think reading a whole book is overwhelming, divide the total number of pages in the book by the 40 days of Lent and you’ll find it’s not taxing at all. It helps “waiting time” to pass quickly. And you’ll celebrate Easter with an expanded and renewed faith.
I’d love to write more. But the 19 books currently in my “to-read” stack are clamoring for attention!