Buying school books at the beginning of a new year was always something I looked forward to. The smell of fresh books, with their shiny covers and crisp pages, has always been an obsession. In grade five, when my books arrived, there was something new amongst them. There was a thick (at least it felt thick at that time) story book: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and it was out of sheer curiosity that I picked up that book. I was already hooked on as I read the first few pages! It was magical! I imagined Charlie, his house, the way he had to starve, how he must have felt when he won that golden ticket, and then the Oompa Loompas, Willy Wonka, and his magical chocolate factory! I finished the book in four days! But I was hungry for more! This book was my gateway drug. It has been almost fifteen years since I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I have read hundreds of books since then. My teachers, my parents, and everyone around me appreciated me for my reading habits.
However, when I look around I today I see parents handing over IPads and Tabs to their kids. I barely see any kids, at least the ones I know, interested in reading. Yes, they are good with their studies and yes, they get good grades but they have no idea who Thomas Hardy was or who wrote Pride and Prejudice. Why is reading so important? How is our generation different from the up-coming one? What do books have that movies don’t? While I was teaching I used to ask my students to read Harry Potter, Da Vinci Code etc. and they used to retort back with the same clichéd answer that we have already seen the movie. So, I come back to the question I initially raised: What do books have that movies don’t?
While it is true that reading a book takes you way longer than watching a movie but there are several advantages that reading presents. Most importantly, for young minds- it is important to make sure that they are imaginative and creative. While reading a book, a person imagines characters and situations, he/she forges links about situations and in truth plays the scene in his/her mind. Movies present one person’s depiction of the way the characters should be. The scenes and situations are a portrayal of that one person’s perception; therefore, there is an inherent bias when it comes to movies. For example, I never expected Willy Wonka to look the way Johnny Depp acted him out. I am not saying that it was bad. I am just saying that this wasn’t what I ‘imagined’ him to be like. So kids, who have seen the movie, will forever imagine Willy Wonka to be the way he was represented. And if anyone of the kids, who has seen the movie tries reading the book, he/she would not be able to imagine a different Willy Wonka. Therefore, the imagination factor has to be considered. We should let the children imagine what they want their favorite characters to be like and not induce a ready-made image in their minds.
Secondly, when you read books you pick up new words, you learn new phrases, and you learn how to present your own thoughts. While I was reading Charlie and the Chocolate factory I remember consulting the Oxford Dictionary several times for there were words like: perplex, ludicrous, and loathe which, at my age, I couldn’t for my life fathom the meanings of. Also in some cases I noted that while reading some difficult words, I could easily guess the meaning of the word from the context that it was being used in. This was an attribute that I learnt through reading and one that I use even today. It was while reading that I realized the importance of vocabulary. I remember that when I was in grade eight I picked up Thomas Hardy’s novel “The Mayor of Casterbridge”. I read the first page and couldn’t get a word so I put it down, some days later I picked it up again and still couldn’t get anything and it was on the third attempt that I decided that I have to get past the first page and with the help of a dictionary I was successful. When I did get past the first page I was instantly captivated by the storyline. Today, Mayor of Casterbridge is one of my favorite novels.
Thirdly, books are tiny knowledge houses. When you read books like ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘Da Vinci Code’, you not only enjoy the storyline, but also learn about such significant and diverse subjects like the French Revolution and religion. So, when I read Da Vinci Code I was prompted to research more about the Knight Templars and Free Masons. When a child comes across something like this it triggers his/her curiosity to learn more about the subjects touched upon in a book. Generally, when I tell this to my students the answer is: “Sir! We have Google and Wikipedia! Why do we need books?” While this is a valid question we need to consider one important factor here. How many of us generally go on Google and write terms like French revolution or Knight Templars until we have been prompted to do so by a teacher? Google and Wikipedia are used majorly by students attempting to do their assignments. While by reading books you get automatic triggers and learning about something that you are actually interested in is much better than doing a boring history assignment at 3 AM.
Parents of this generation need to understand the importance of reading. While it is true that there are many distractions for the children these days like IPads, TV, Cell phones, and Laptops, the parents need to work on their child’s reading habits as well and make sure that they read books that stimulate their minds and make them more imaginative beings. The screen time should be minimal and their reading time maximum.