Saturday, October 1

The Impact Of Reading On Our Lives

When I was in my early teens we had a telephone and a TV. That was the extent of technology as we knew it. The advent of advanced technology was a number of years away and had not impact on my world as of yet. My universe was made up of baseball gloves, bats, footballs, basketballs, stickball bats, Spaldings and all things sporting goods I could get my hands on (legally of course). My friends and I made our way to “The Field” (Midwood Field) on a regular basis, squeezing in as many games of stickball, baseball, basketball and football possible before nightfall robbed us of that one last at bat. Darkness or inclement weather was not a consideration. Playing touch football in the snow or rain only added to the joy of being outdoors with my buddies and the elements.

One of my closest chums was an avid reader. A big fan of sci-fi, he got me hooked on the genre in High School and introduced me to Bradbury, Heinlen and Silverberg, who were among his favorites. After sampling one of Silverberg’s novels I was hooked. When we weren’t playing ball, we would sit around his place or mine, discussing the latest book we were reading. Starting a new book was another adventure I couldn’t wait to dive into. Any recommendation from a fellow reader was appreciated, providing me with a new experience to look forward to. Soon Steinbeck became another favorite along with numerous biographies and a wide variety of crime novels including Elmore Leonard, Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler.

My parents encouraged me to read when I was in elementary school but any reading I did was a sentence imposed on me by the school’s curriculum. By the time I got to High School, I had begun to read for my own enjoyment and I no longer felt like I was doing a stint in solitary confinement.

I didn’t realize at the time that reading was making a huge impact on my overall growth in a variety of ways. Clearly I was more informed, better able to express myself, formulate my own opinions, back up my arguments with facts, and more confident that when I opened my mouth I wouldn’t need a crowbar to extract my foot. I also didn’t realize at the time that reading was going to make a major impact on my future vocation. Teaching the craft of acting. After studying and acting for several years I segued into teaching. I was fairly confident at this point that between reading (several books on acting) and performing I would be able to not only teach, but hold the attention of a class of aspiring actors. I had been fortunate to find an exceptional teacher who provided me with knowledge of the craft, but I also had reading to thank for enabling me to stand before a class and address my audience with confidence.

Today, in this day and age of iPhones, iPads, Xboxes, text messaging, email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the gamut of cyberworld technology, we are losing the ability to express ourselves with some degree of intelligence. I am not making a blanket generalization or launching an attack on the population as a whole as there many people in our society that are extremely intelligent and well-read. But I am concerned with the negative impact technology is having on our ability to communicate and articulate our thoughts, ideas and feelings. Complete sentences are not a part of the lexicon of the text message devotee. “C u 2nite”, “B ova in 5”, “What r u doing lata?”, are considered acceptable forms of communication. Have we become so lazy that writing messages in complete sentences has become the equivalent of “Sisyphus” rolling his boulder up a hill?

As a teacher of acting for 25 years I have met young people who express a desire to act, but lack the ability to express themselves adequately, and on more than a few occasions I have interviewed students with reading skills that are severely compromised. Sad but true.

For anyone that aspires to act reading is a primary requisite of the job. Pronunciation, articulation, projection and use of the proper syntax are essential if you are to make an impression on industry professionals. Reading is a way to cultivate and nurture your imagination, improve your vocabulary, enhance your ability to express yourself and contribute greatly to your overall intelligence. I can think of no downside to “feeding your head” (please do not confuse this phrase with “The Jefferson Airplane”s” reference in “White Rabbit”).

I would ask that you take all of this in the spirit in which it is offered. Heaven knows I am as imperfect as the next person, with my fair share of flaws and limitations, but if we wish to live in a society in which we are to experience a healthy exchange of thoughts, ideas, differences of opinions, intelligent discourse and the like, we would all be well served to put our devices down every so often and read, go to a museum, spend time with a friend chatting over coffee, write the occasional letter, see an off-Broadway play (Broadway prices are prohibitive for many of us), go to a movie and spend a little time discussing it afterwards.

I propose that we all make a pact to put our devices down for one day and go about communicating with one another sans texting, FB messaging, et al. All those in favor say, “Aye.”