Screenshot of Gilmore Girls
Screenshot of Gilmore Girls

I come from a family of avid readers. My father seemed to have a new novel on the go, whether it be complete garbage or a respected work, almost every day. My mother went through written words just as constantly, albeit at a slightly less voracious pace. And my brother managed to inhale them at such a rate that it often appeared to me that he had a new one before the end of the day.

I typically fell somewhere in the middle—more like my mother than the other two. I like having a week or two to completely digest a book. Immerse myself fully. Capture other facets that emerge with time. Growing up in Delta while going to school in Coquitlam also afforded me the ideal interval to indulge in one of my favourite pastimes; there’s precious little to do in a car or on public transit other than to fulfill the Vancouver stereotype and try to avoid eye contact with everyone.

My reading habits have since seen a decline. My situation is not a unique one. Yes, I’m still making sure I consume at least one unit of literary sustenance a month, but it has become progressively more difficult. Inasmuch as I enjoy reading, it can occasionally seem, though not a chore, a bit of an effort. There are other relaxing activities that demand even less energy than reading coaxes, and, true to human spirit, the path of least resistance is tempting indeed.

It’s so mindlessly easy nowadays to pop on Netflix or surf the Internet for your favourite TV show and hit “play.” In the past, our watching practices were dictated by when our program was on. Though some in those dark days still managed to sit by the boob tube and power through a couch session regardless of what rubbish was coming through those rabbit ears, it was a significantly less challenging task to tear oneself away and do something else, like read. Our descent from books is due in no small part to the advancements we’ve made in technology.

It’s a shame. Make no doubt about it. Language is one of humanity’s most important attributes. Granted, there may be miniscule distinctions we fail to pick up in other creatures’ communications, language—varied language specifically—appears to be a major gift that sets us apart. And we will always have that, but the quality of that gift is in danger. A well-developed vocabulary is nothing to shake a fist at—it can add to our speech immeasurably.

But where does that vocabulary come from? School? To an extent, but generally only on the most basic of levels. Chances are your Grade 12 teacher didn’t ask you to memorize a list of synonyms for any given word. General conversation with your friends can yield fresh terminology, but such words are not spontaneous; those syllables are harvested from other sources.

Books. They’re an invaluable resource. When you happen across a word you don’t know, you look it up. You’ve learned something. You’ve added to your repertoire. You’re a better educated human being who can contribute more eloquently in conversation as a result.

A vocabulary is knowledge: having it gives you an inside edge and an enriched experience, similar to how keeping up-to-date with the news allows you to understand and discuss current events. A friend once likened it to an inside joke—funny only to those aware of it.

Once, in Grade 4, a classmate of mine who generally made it a habit of picking on others (apply whatever title you wish to this) raised his hand at one point during a reading to ask what “ignorant” meant. I howled with laughter, the snob that I was, and several classmates followed suit. It was one of the first times it legitimately felt rewarding to know. To have a vocabulary. To understand the irony.

So, don’t be like the increasing number of Netflix-bound zombies in the world today. There’s no need to cut out TV completely, but pick up a book once in a while. Prove that the positive stereotype of human beings as curious creatures with a thirst for knowledge is true. Develop yourself for the better, and you just might find yourself enjoying it.

Danke danke,

Eric Wilkins