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QUOTATION: People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote - a very different thing. - Walter H. Judd

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2004-07-10 - 11:02 a.m.

Reading - a Lost Art?

This morning when I wandered into my office, I found that Ed had left a print-out of a New York Times op-ed piece, entitled “The Closing of the American Book” by Andrew Solomon, author of “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.” I’ve not read the book, but the column speaks to the truth of one of the most literate societies in history. As Solomon writes, “What is the point of having a population that can read, but doesn’t?”

Apparently his thesis in his book is: “ That the rates of depression should be going up as the rates of reading are going down is no happenstance.” He also contends that the escalation of Alzheimer’s may be attributed to a lack of active engagement of adult minds, as well as heredity and environmental stimulants. (Oh, how I pray that his premise that those who continue learning may be less likely to develop the dread disease, as I deliberately try to learn something new every day.)

Solomon goes on to warn that the crisis in reading besides being a national health crisis may very well be a crisis in national politics, reminding us of the burning of books in Nazi Germany and of the Soviet repression of literature with these words:

“The Nazis were right in believing that one of the most powerful weapons in a war of ideas is books. And for better or worse, the United States is now in such a war. Without books, we cannot succeed in our current struggle against absolutism and terrorism. The retreat from civic to virtual life is a retreat from engaged democracy, from the principles that we say we want to share with the rest of the world. You are what you read. If you read nothing, then your mind withers, and your ideals lose their vitality and sway.”

I tutor children who have not learned to read in traditional classroom settings. One of the easiest things is to teach children to read. The trick, I believe, is to make them want to read more. This is one of the great services of J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series. She created a renewed surge in reading in children and adults alike.

It’s too bad we cannot somehow infuse that same fervor for reading books into the electorate of this country. I would first recommend eye-opening books, such as Against All Enemies by Richard Clark, Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward, American Dynasty by Kevin Phillips, and the gripping The Price of Loyalty by Ron Suskind. You can find reviews of these books from both sides of the aisle at Amazon.com As Solomon says, “Reading is harder than watching television or playing video games,” but “how well worth the effort it is.”

As Mark Twain said, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. And inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx

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