I was just commenting on a blog where the issue up for discussion was summer reading for young people. Should the recommended/required reading lists be fun or "literary"?
Many people who are not readers perceive reading as work. Some people I have talked with find it actually emotionally traumatic to be required to read. I recall a comment on the bus I heard one time. I was using a small flashlight to read by, since it was dark and I had about thirty minutes to ride to my destination. Someone quipped, "Why is he doing that? Reading is hard enough anyway." Obviously not a big reader.
My comment on the blog I was reading regarded Dickens. His work is almost always included in a young person's list of things they must read. My introduction was "Great Expectations." Having read a lot of Dickens over the years, I would contend that an introduction to his works should begin with one of his lighter works. There is nothing wrong with fun being a part of someones education.
Compulsory introductions to poetry should not necessarily begin with Emily Dickinson, or Shakespeare. Too many people can only see poetry as something culled from Hallmark. An adventure in fun poetry should begin the exploration. Especially bringing "manly" young men into the presence of the poet.
Translations and transliterations don't necessarily hurt, either. "Canterbury Tales" is much more interesting when it is in a form that is readable by a modern reader. Having read the tales in an understandable format, the adventurous reader might just go back to the older form of English for a taste.
Literature should not be a mode of snobbery. It is, among some parts of our society. It ought not to be. It should not be bound by rules that confine the experience without enhancing it. Rules are fine, if they provide structure and focus. However, once they fail to enhance the experience, they fail in their purpose.
I must reiterate that the shift of attention from reading in a post-literate age does not necessarily mean a decline in culture. Preservationist must strive to keep literature alive, but it is not reasonable to expect everyone to be an avid reader in an age that provides alternatives to the written word for communication.
Today I could be expressing myself in a video, which I could publish as easily as this blog. I could easily aquire (though not necessarily easily master) animation software, and express myself that way. There are many options, beyond simply writing.
Perhaps that presents a challenge to those of us who value the art of reading. A challenge to use some of these alternative media to encourage people to read. The very tools that are available to provide options other than reading can also be used to share the joy of reading.
As always, a problem is not just a problem. It is a challenge, and an opportunity. It will be interesting to see just how the alternative media are used to encourage young people to read.