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One Thing August Has to Offer

By James Utt
By James Utt

August is my least favorite month. There are no national holidays to celebrate, not even an Arbor Day. If I was Hawaiian I might get excited because on Aug. 21 Hawaii was officially admitted to the union. But I am not Hawaiian. It is hard to get worked up about National Ice Cream Sandwich Day (Aug. 2), or National Mustard Day (Aug. 5).

As a child, August was always the month, that, when it was over, I had to trudge back to school, Davy Crockett lunch pail in hand, and try and remember all the math I had forgotten over the summer. As a resident of Laguna, it is this month when our town is most hot and choked with tourists. And, as an aging baby boomer, it is the month I become a year older. July, please come back.

But wait. There is one day in August, unknown to most, that has been vastly under celebrated, and that is National Book Lover’s Day, Aug. 9. Books are like the lover foolishly left behind at the dance for seemingly more alluring partners: television, the internet, social media. But these only offer us all too often, vapid reality shows, Trump’s tweets, and porn sites.

Why fall back in love with books? Let me count the ways. Books engage you. You are not a passive participant. One must think and imagine the world the author is creating and with this comes mental stimulation. One reads also for knowledge. As one of my early teachers said, “If you never read anything, you will only know what you think. That is not enough.” Reading also has been shown to increase vocabulary and memory as well as the power of concentration. And, often, with the right book, a sense of tranquility falls over us. This is just a hunch, but I believe if people read more, we might be more discerning in who we select to run for president. We would not be so taken in by 30-second “hit piece” TV spots during our never ending presidential campaigns. Thomas Jefferson said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requirement for our survival as a free people.” I believe books, as well as certain magazines and newspapers, are the key to becoming an educated citizenry.

But we aren’t reading more. I won’t bother with statistics. Well, actually, I will. The number of non-book readers has tripled since 1978. There has also been a sharp decline in reading for pleasure among young people. In 2015, the number of American children who say they love reading for pleasure has fallen 10% in the last four years. I used to teach high school, so let’s check in on 17 year olds. Forty-five percent of them say they read by choice only once or twice a year.

Call me old fashioned, or even a Cassandra, but I fear if these trends continue. We could be headed for a post-literate world that even Mad Max would find difficult to navigate. Oh, we would still have our Starbucks and our tablets, but we would lack a common core of knowledge. There would be limited powers of concentration. And study after study shows that people who do not read have poor verbal communication skills. If we don’t read, our ability to verbally communicate will atrophy. This is not the world I want my grandchildren to grow up in.

So this Aug. 9, let us celebrate a truly worthy day that has been heretofore largely ignored. No, on second thought, let’s not wait until the actual day. Just like we start getting ready for Christmas the day after Halloween, we should start preparing for National Book Lover’s Day weeks in advance. Reread “To Kill A Mockingbird,” or Jefferson Parker’s “Laguna Heat.” Challenge yourself with an Edward O. Wilson book, or laugh with David Sedaris.

If you don’t want to read, well, you can always celebrate Aug. 21, National Senior Citizen’s Day, proclaimed by President Reagan in 1984. I’ll be at the Susi Q, reading.

 

James Utt is a retired social science teacher and Laguna resident since 2001. He used to have a bumper sticker that said “What would Atticus do?”

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