Aurelio Porfiri

Why has reading become a much neglected occupation? Perhaps we need to address this issue in general before focusing on this concern in relation to the Catholic sphere.

I hold the belief the deleterious attitude towards reading is to be blamed partly on families and schools, as well as the type of society we live in.

Families do not encourage reading for the simple fact that it is akin to a snake biting its own tail. Parents, who are not readers themselves, will not motivate their children to become interested in books. The cycle of ignorance continues. Piero Angela, a popular Italian journalist, says with a certain irony: “Sometimes it is said that the children of smokers tend to be smokers: even with regard to books, the children of readers on average tend to be readers more than others. Because they are influenced by the model of their parents, by the family cultural level, by the very existence of books in the home, by the stimuli they receive for reading […]. Developing the habit of reading is not easy: psychologists say that […] the experiences of the first period of life are important. For example, the fact that the mother reads storybooks to the children and puts suitable volumes in their hands. To teach them to ‘smoke’ books”.

If you are not educated to read from childhood, it is unlikely that you will start later. I have met people who have reached old age without ever having opened a book. Is it necessarily worse? No, but a lot has certainly been lost. Aristippus says: “Just as those who eat a lot [and exercise] are no more healthy than those who eat the necessary foods, so not those who read many things are morally valid, but those who read useful things”. This would be important to keep in mind.

The publisher Gian Arturo Ferrari says well: “Unlike television and the press, the book requires, above all, a structure of time made for reading. The reader must have a time organized in such a way as to allow the reading of the book, which cannot be read at once; you must be able to pick up the book again at such intervals that every time you remember what you have read previously. This requires a very structured time as a function of reading. This condition is not easy to achieve because it requires a long education in reading which must begin at an early age. At forty, you don’t change your time structure”.

Schooling often does not teach us to love culture, but to despise it. How many have passed through school in Italy hating Dante, Manzoni and Leopardi? Thank God, many discover them later and learn to love them. Nevertheless, it must be said that having exposure to these authors in school is, at least, useful because it pushes people to get to know them who otherwise would never approach them. Of course, all of this could be changed if teachers were effective at their job. Some – a few – are exceptional. The majority are not passionate about what they do and the result is to make people hate their subject.

Then there is the time we live in, a time of great changes in which communication has changed enormously; in which the way of communicating upholds a preference for short messages (Twitter) that even disappear (Snapchat) or are conveyed by images (Instagram). Those accustomed to this are unlikely to read a 300-page tome. Maybe a novel, a story – but non-fiction? The possibilities are slim.

All that I have said, naturally, also concerns Catholic publishing – a segment of the publishing landscape. Only truly motivated people go there with inquiring minds, to read and to learn. Today, however, the possibilities have greatly increased. What do I mean by this? In the sense that electronic publishing has made its way into the Catholic sphere and has increased the avenues available to Catholic readers. Perhaps, this will prove a boon and encourage an increase in readership among Catholics.