On The Onion … and Deviant Reading Behavior
A recent story from satirical news source The Onion (www.TheOnion.com), entitled “Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book,” read:
Sitting in a quiet, downtown diner, local hospital administrator Philip Meyer looks as normal and well-adjusted as can be. Yet, there’s more to this 27-year-old than first meets the eye: Meyer has recently finished reading a book.
Yes, the whole thing.
“It was great,” said the peculiar Indiana native, who, despite owning a television set and having an active social life, read every single page of “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. …
Meyer, who never once jumped ahead to see what would happen and avoided skimming large passages of text in search of pictures, first began his oddball feat a week ago. Three days later, the eccentric Midwesterner was still at it, completing chapter after chapter, seemingly of his own free will.
… Over the years, Meyer has read dozens of books from beginning to end, regardless of whether he was forced to do so by a professor in school or whether a film version of the reading material already existed. …
According to behavioral psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Schulz, Meyer’s reading of entire books is abnormal and may be indicative of a more serious obsession with reading.
“Instead of just zoning out during a bus ride or spending hour after hour watching YouTube videos at night, Mr. Meyer, unlike most healthy males, looks to books for gratification,” Schulz said. “Really, it’s a classic case of deviant behavior.” …
After the humor of this story wore off a bit, I began to wonder: How far off is society at large from being in such a state that a story like this is no longer funny, but a horrible reality? I believe so far off that we can still laugh (and will be able to for quite some time) about The Onion’s story of Philip Meyer; but obviously there is mounting concern about the nation’s reading habits, and I can see why—among other reasons, I seem to question the intelligence of much of the population on a daily basis, especially while driving on the highway or watching the news.
Fortunately, the industry isn’t waiting until the Philip Meyer story evolves from satire to widespread truth. The “Get Caught Reading” campaign, sponsored by the Association of American Publishers, comes to mind as one of the more well-known literacy efforts (even Yoda “got caught” reading during 2007’s Get Caught Reading Month!). The National Education Association’s Read Across America, which launched more than a decade ago, is another one. Of course, there are other national efforts, as well as many, many local efforts.
This year, a new national advocacy effort was launched in January, with the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book, the Children’s Book Council (CBC) and the CBC Foundation appointing Jon Scieszka as the first-ever National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Coughing up funds for the effort are a number of major publishers, including Penguin Young Readers Group, Scholastic, HarperCollins Children’s Books, Random House Children’s Books, Holiday House, Charlesbridge, National Geographic Children’s Books, Candlewick Press and Marshall Cavendish Publishers.
Fortunately, Scieszka’s perspective suggests that Philip Meyer’s story will remain in satire for some time, but he’s not leaving that to chance. In a recent interview with Book Business Extra, he said, “I’ve started a literacy group for boys called Guys Read (www.GuysRead.com). The more research I looked into, [the more I found data that] showed that boys are reading. It’s just not how schools define it. It’s not all novels. There are other kinds of reading. We should let kids read what they enjoy. There are graphic novels, and a lot of what kids want to read is nonfiction.”
I have to say I can relate wholeheartedly to his point and can offer my first-hand perspective on the fact that kids may not be reading what we might expect them to read. My 12-year-old stepson is reading something right now that is definitely not literature. It’s not a graphic novel. It’s—and I am not being satirical—The Onion’s “Our Dumb World: Atlas Of Planet Earth.” Must be a classic case of deviant behavior.