Reading constructive alternative to daily channel surfingv

Near the beginning of the Earth’s history, the first cell arose from the primordial ooze; oxygen-breathing bacteria took more than a billion additional years to evolve. Eventually, fish began to swim and grow eyes and jaws. They pulled themselves onto swamps as amphibians, and after awhile, mammals came to be: their brains growing larger, larger, larger. Finally, life evolved beautifully self-aware humans. So do we, after all this effort, allow our minds to be sucked into sitcoms instead of books?The answer, unfortunately, is “yes.”

In the 1976 movie, “Network,” the character Howard Beale lamented that less than 3 percent of us read books. According to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Aug. 21. The truth today is much worse: one in four adults read no books at all in the last year.

Obviously, occasionally watching a sitcom for a bit of relaxation is no sin, especially if it’s one of the rare outstanding productions. But that’s not the point. Literature – even the trashiest romance novel – offers us something no television show can.

And I’m not even referring to building vocabulary through William Faulkner or learning about submarines through Tom Clancy. Documentaries, perhaps the best television has to offer, can help us do both.

When a person reads a piece of fiction, he does something he can do with nothing else: He uses his mind to construct a world in his imagination from words alone. This effort provides a unique aesthetic experience, wherein the reader constantly and actively takes part in the process of creating the artwork and its meaning.

Literature also builds empathy in a unique way. Of all the arts, fiction can best directly present, describe and comment on characters’ thoughts and feelings. If film – a great art form in itself – attempts to do so with too much voice-over, the effect becomes obnoxious and interferes with the cinematic experience. Reading about thoughts and feelings helps one better understand people and thus care more for others. This feature of literature may explain why a 2002 report issued by the National Endowment for the Arts, “Reading at risk,” found readers to be more civically engaged than nonreaders, doing things such as more charity work, for instance.

We are tired. Let us have our sitcoms, our commercials and our nightly news entertainment about lost puppies and celebrity stupidity.

No. Most television as Howard Beale pointed out, “is in the boredom-killing business.” Take the opportunity to use your mind by reading more fiction.

Douglas Arthur Lucas is a senior English and philosophy major from Fort Worth.