The Value of Books?

I came across this essay recently in the New York Times.

old-books-436498_1280The author posits that books…the physical kind not files stored on your e-reader…present in the home are a contributing factor to above-average academic performance in children. He suggests that today’s minimalist movement – including the purging of such artefacts like books and vinyl album collections – in some way hinders intellectual growth and curiosity.

I get what he is trying to say, but from personal experience I disagree.

I grew up in a home with no readily-available books (other than the Bible…which mostly just gathered dust in the corner), yet I was a voracious reader and acquired my steady flow of reading material from the library. No simple feat for a child who lived far out in the country a million miles from the nearest library and had a stay-at-home mother who did not drive.

Thankfully there was the Bookmobile (dating myself, I know!) that occasionally visited our neighbourhood. I was their best and most loyal customer. There was also the weekly library mail service. Do they even still do this?! That second one was like a game of book roulette…it started with a small placard listing all the books available for delivery.

No book descriptions, just titled and authors and a checkbox next to each. And nobody was checking to see if the books you ordered were age appropriate or anything appropriate. You called the shots! Pretty liberating for a 9 year old.

You marked which books you wanted and mailed the form back to the library. Then, like magic, a few days later a canvas pouch would arrive with three books inside, along with a new placard for the following week’s order. Each week, repeat. I read voraciously this way and also introduced myself to authors and topics I never otherwise would have stumbled across, even if my parents had a library full of books at home.

Of course, this required self-motivation on my part (my parents were far too disengaged to push me in this direction), but I was hungry to read anything and everything. And it paid off. I became a bit of a reading outlier. I even recall being studied by a graduate student at some point. She discovered I had a 12th grade reading comprehension level by time I was 10 or so.

I agree with the author that books are important. But the minimalist in me (as well as the woman who has moved her possessions across continents and oceans more than once) eschews the idea that a home library full of books is necessary or desirable anymore.

Kids will read (or not) based on their own motivation. As a parent? Read to them and encourage them, by all means. I did. Set a strong example that reading is important and enjoyable. I did that, too.

But don’t hold on to possessions for the wrong reasons or justifications. After all, someday your kids will have to clean off all those shelves when you’re gone.




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