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Suddenly you have time to read?

Column by Emma Bjornsrud

We fill our time binge-watching Netflix, scrolling through social media and listening to podcasts. Do these forms of entertainment supplement reading, or have we replaced pleasure reading altogether?

Books have played a very important role in the life of Barbara Meyers, the owner of Henderson Books, a used bookstore in downtown Bellingham.

Meyers said she worked the graveyard shift as a post office clerk 34 years ago. One day after work, she decided to stop at a used bookstore, despite the long night. She was looking for the next book in a particular science fiction series.

That’s when she met the owner, who later became her husband.

“He didn't have the book at the time, but the next time I went, he had found the book for me,” she said. “About three years later, I quit the post office and started working with my husband.”

But Meyers seems to value reading more than the average person. So, why should the rest of us read for fun more frequently?

A study titled “The Impact of Pleasure Reading on Academic Success” compared the academic success of students who fell into two categories: those who read for pleasure and those who do not. The study found that reading for pleasure helps students develop critical thinking and comprehension skills, and can actually increase students’ academic success.

It also found that the number of teenagers who read for pleasure is declining.

“I think quite frankly we have force-fed students to read a little too much and have lost the reason for reading in the first place,” Sam Sullivan, one of the authors of the study, wrote in an email.

That reason may simply be to experience the pleasure of reading — getting sucked into a story and not putting the book down until you’ve finished it. 

Bellingham Public Library children’s librarian specialist Bernice Chang said the staff members at the library give book talks to get the children and their families excited about the books.

“For those kids who might be struggling with reading, if they have something that they're really interested in in terms of TV or gaming or other things that are in their lives, we try to hand them a book about that as well to get them interested in reading,” she said.

Similarly, Meyers said that someone who doesn’t like reading might have a reason for it, like dyslexia or vision impairment. To enjoy reading despite these obstacles, it’s important to choose books interesting to that individual.

“People need sort of a prescription for the best type of book for them,” she said. (If you want to self-prescribe, the website “What Should I Read Next?” lets users search for their next read based on books they already know and love.)

To encourage the community to read and discuss books for fun, the public and academic libraries of Bellingham, along with Village Books, established the Whatcom READS program. It resembles a book club, with one book chosen each year for the community to read and share before the author visits for presentations.

Katy Tolles, the Artist Services coordinator for Allied Arts of Whatcom County, said Allied Arts worked with the libraries about five years ago to add an art component to the existing Whatcom READS program. Artists were already producing art influenced by the books they were reading, so Allied Arts provided the venue to exhibit it, Tolles said.

“We've got works by well-established local artists,” Tolles said. “We've also got works by people who have never created art before in their life, but the book spoke to them in such a way that they wanted to put it down in art form.”

She said reading for fun should be something that inspires people — to make art, but also to think in different ways.

“I think just expanding your horizons, reading something creative and seeing how it changes your perspective on the world or helps inspire you to do other things is a really important aspect,” Tolles said.

Reading can help form our identities and bring people together. Although we have plenty of things to keep us busy, I must say I believe there’s nothing better than a good book.

Related news: "Speak" author Laurie Halse Anderson cancels visit to Village Books, discusses the origin of "Shout."

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