Have you heard that the end of books is nigh? People have been having a big old freakout about this idea for years. The thinking goes that in the age of the internet, combined with cheap ebook availability, books will cease to exist. For a long time, people have been Very Concerned that today’s teens and young readers just aren’t interested in reading anymore, with a world of tweets and Facebook messages to catch up on.
But as it turns out, the reports of the book’s death have been exaggerated. Recent data coming in shows that book sales are actually thriving, and ebook sales, while healthy, have even declined a fraction. That means that when it comes down to it, people still greatly value the beauty of a book. And people may even be reading more than ever before. But no one really knows why.
Why do you think books continue to have lasting appeal even in an age of instant gratification, constant stimulation, and short attention spans? It might be that regardless of our changing attentions and attitudes, we as human beings still feel a hunger for the story as a form. We want to read narratives, and books are still the most engrossing and satisfying way to find those narratives. Books offer us a richness of experience that even great movies and TV shows can’t rival. We can get to know a character and see her in all her glory, all her good and bad days. We can imagine her as a friend, or as an enemy.
I think that’s one reason that teen readers are absolutely essential for the health of the book. It’s that time of life when we look for friendship and start imagining what the inner lives of other people might be like. We’re newly astounded to discover the worlds of others. In that stage of our lives, we’re hungrily learning, developing our social intelligence. We’re figuring out why people are selfish and why they’re generous, what makes a person a coward and what makes him brave. There’s nothing like books for teaching us about psychology and the inner life of human beings.
So if you’re buying books, whether in digital or paper form, and you’re reading them, you’re contributing to a world of narrative richness, a world of greater empathy, and a world of better mutual understanding. But you’re also contributing to a world that has more stories in it, which is always a good thing. All that, just for picking up a book!