Reading Can Unlock All Doors

Physician's Money Digest, August31 2004, Volume 11, Issue 16

As the editor of a magazine forphysicians, I'm obviously interestedin their readershiphabits. Although capabledoctors make professional reading a priority(more on that in the next issue), a2003 lifestyle survey of 2300 Physician'sMoney Digest readers also found thatabout 70% like to "read for pleasure."

I grew up in a house of readers. Bookswere always around. This was perhapsmy parents' grandest gift to their children.They set a fine example. I warmlyremember watching my mom and dadhappily spend hours reading—together.Their reading tastes were extensive. Myphysician-dad liked history, the classics,and sports. Mom liked newspapers, novels,and biographies.

Reading Legacy

Today, all of my siblings remainsteady readers. And while I don't do asmuch reading at home (after all, my jobas an editor is to read), I've usually gotfour or five books working on my nighttable at a time. Indeed, my standard giftto family and friends is a gift certificateto a good bookstore.

Ironically enough, the more I read,the more I realize that Ma and Pa Kellywere unique. A shocking report thissummer from the National Endowmentfor the Arts (NEA; www.nea.gov) foundthat nearly 45% of Americans did notread any book in the past year. An additional53% have not read "literature"(ie, poems, plays, or narrative fiction) inthe past year. The decline encompassesall US demographic groups.

According to Dana Gioia, MBA, theNEA chairman and an award-winningpoet, "[The Reading at Risk report]documents a national crisis. Readingdevelops a capacity for focused attentionand imaginative growth. This declineamong every segment of the adultpopulation reflects a general collapse inadvanced literacy. To lose this humancapacity—and all the diverse benefits itfosters—impoverishes both culturaland civic life."

Placing Blame

Even with the Harry Potter crazeand the general explosion of bookspublished, the number of books soldnationally fell by 23 million in 2003.It's easy to pass off the decline in readershipto the explosive growth of electronicmedia—a trap I myself too oftenfall into—but in truth, it's about thelack of balance in our lives.

I'm happy to report that my two childrenare lovers of reading. Thanks mostlyto my enduring reading habits and mywife's thoughtful promotion and enthusiasm,my children own many books andare always seeking more. We've seenwhat reading has done for their confidence level as well as their vocabulary.

In the end, to be a worthwhile parent,stimulate your children to be readers.