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On books

March 31, 2023

Kate Padilla

I used to read more. I would come home from school and spend hours sitting in the branches of the tree in our backyard, high enough above the ground to feel I had been transported to the world of Percy Jackson or Artemis Fowl, later venturing to Middle Earth and beyond. I read about everything from history books by Howard Zinn to science fiction such as “Dune” and “Foundation.” Everywhere I went, I would carry my book and read with every spare second I had. Waiting for the bus, on the bus, before practice and in the classroom before school started (the bus would always drop my route off 40 minutes before school started, something to do with budget cuts and limiting bus service). In short, I used to read more. We all used to read more.

In conversation with people at Bowdoin, it would be hard to find someone who hasn’t read at least one of the iconic series as a kid—”Harry Potter,” “Percy Jackson,” “The Hunger Games” or even the horrific never ending trash that was the “Warriors” series. We can all reminisce about bygone days reading the series all loved. We used to be readers. But not anymore. These days, it is hard to find those of us who still read for fun and regularly. Of course some do, but the numbers have been declining.

Maybe it’s because we got older and have more work. While you can’t find any books I’m reading for pleasure in my bag, you’re sure to find at least two books that I’m reading for class. But I am not sure if it is because I have less time. I waste entire hours on my phone, watching shows, playing games or scrolling through whatever mindless app I find myself on. I could be reading then. Maybe I read less because I now have a phone. If I’d had a phone in fourth grade, I’d probably have catastrophic mental health and spent a lot less time reading. But I’m not sure that’s true. Sure, I didn’t have a phone, but we had TV and a computer with YouTube and Minecraft, so it’s not that I didn’t have abundant distractions.

Maybe I’m getting older and that’s done something to my ability to sit and read. Maybe it’s that society and the world I’m living in has changed, too. Maybe it’s some sort of combination, or maybe I’m completely wrong, but I miss the books I used to read. I miss getting lost in a world that didn’t exist. I miss watching a character grow from a kid no one ever saw or believed in to someone who could change the world. Because if those characters I read about could change the world, maybe fourth grade me, sitting in the branches of a tree, high enough and covered by the leaves that no one could find me unless they knew where to look, could matter, too. Books inspired me, they gave me hope and filled me with dreams.

Recently I’ve come to realize that I’ve lost a lot of that hope and wonder I used to have when I was a child. I’ve become more cynical and skeptical of the world and I think that’s happened for our entire generation, too. And there are good reasons to be cynical—part of growing up is seeing the world as it is—but I also think part of it comes from the fact that we read a little less. Therefore, we dream a little less. We no longer encounter the magic of choosing, on our own, and not required by a class, to see the world through someone else’s eyes. We no longer choose to actively engage and imagine on our own—without some screen doing it for us—a world different from ours. We no longer spend time exploring stories that can teach us about the world and ourselves.

I’m not sure how much less we read, but I’m sure we read less. And I’m not sure why we read less. And I’m not sure what the exact impacts of reading less are, but nevertheless I still believe that our disregard of stories has had a profound effect on all of us. I believe that we have left behind that childhood wonder and it has impacted us for the worst.

I think in this world, at this time, we as a society need to read and engage more. I plan on trying to read more at least, but I am not sure I will succeed. I am not sure I can find the magic it seems I’ve lost. I’m not sure about anything really, but I think it will be worth a shot.

Sam Borne is a member of the Class of 2026.


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