Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Go Read a Book!

Today, while innocently preparing some students for their upcoming oral English exam, we had a conversation which went like this:

Me: So, if you were only going to read a book one time, would you rather buy a (more expensive) hardcover book or a (cheaper) paperback?
Student: I would purchase a hardcover book.
Me: Okay... Why?
Student: Because then I could put it on my... er... shelf. It would be the book I bought in 2011.
Me: But... would you read it?
Student: Uhm... maybe...

Upon further questioning, I found out that these kids DON'T READ. I'm serious! I asked the group when the last time they read a book for fun was, and they couldn't remember! What is happening to the world? I can remember the days when I would get in trouble for reading my book in class. Ask my mother; I was a real bookworm as a kid. I still am, frankly. Not to brag, but I've read 26 books since October - granted, I have a lot more freetime than my students, but still! Not one book is memorable to them? I was shocked, but then I thought about it, and realized that I have never seen any of my students with their noses in a novel, be it at school or on the train. What is going on!?

To help myself understand, I've made a list of possible reasons why they don't read books.

  1. They're barbarians, and Mama din't learn dem how 2 read good.
  2. The group of students I talked to are a poor sample of the rest of the student population, and the rest of the students do actually read.
  3. They really don't have much free time. This was the excuse they told me, but I know that they have free time to "make party", among other things, so why not have some free time to read a book!?
  4. Not as many books are available in German as in English. There are of course less German-speaking people in the world, and not all English books are translated into German. With a reduced selection, perhaps German-speakers struggle a bit more to find books that pique their interest?
  5. (I think this is the biggest one) These students are part of a generation which grew up around the internet. They are only 4-5 years younger than me, but I myself can barely remember a time before the internet, so I'm sure they don't at all. The internet can provide constant stimulation, allowing the students to access thousands of free movies and TV shows, while also allowing them to know up-to-the-minute information about their friends and the whole world. With such limitless, easy entertainment options, why would anyone curl up with a boring old book?
It's a pity, really. I want to read every great novel ever written (though apparently this is impossible), because stories transport me to a new world, a new mindset, better than watching some actors on a 24" screen possibly could. 

Speaking of which, I would like to briefly mention the biggest accomplishment of my life:
I have finally finished my first "real" novel, auf Deutsch.

Perhaps I should have done this earlier. I mean, I have been studying German for years - more than 8, actually, which accounts for over a third of my life (crazy!). I have read short stories, poetry and newspapers and watched some TV programs or movies, but I've never really sat down and read a real book.

The book I chose to read was actually kind of chosen for me. A friend gave me the book, Der Chinese by Henning Mankell, back in the fall. This book was originally written in Swedish, so it probably didn't have quite the same number of overwhelming, run-on, lost verbs sentences that some German books have, but it was still quite the challenge as it has 600 pages. Basically, it had to do with a murder investigation that's history went back over 150 years and across 3 continents. It was quite good in German, and I'm sure would be equally good in English.

Those non-reading students may never quite understand the extreme pleasure and pride I got from finally finishing that beast of a book.

P.S. Read A Book! <--good message, sorry for the dirty language.

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