CENTRAL OREGON COAST – When did books made of paper become something almost irrelevant for our young? Is it a great surprise that Amazon sold more digital book downloads than paper books?
It’s true that books are not as cool as say reading stuff off a phone say youth these days.
But, when one is about and about in Eugene and the surrounding areas, there is no escaping paper books and stuff to read on paper. Face it, books and paper with words on them are here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future.
Still, there’s a growing concern among academics these days that kids simply can’t read higher than say a fourth grade reading level. Gather around the camp-fire with teachers on holiday and you will hear they say that both kids and parents these days are painfully illiterate.
Why? For one thing, UNESCO estimates more than 800 million adults are illiterate. It’s also known that a large number of both adults and youth in the Eugene (*many thousands) are not able to read simple signs or directions for such things as guidelines for coastal and regional parks issued by U.S. Forest Service.
“It’s alarming to think that with all this technology, that many Oregonians in our area are not able to fully comprehend the written word. I once asked a young man if he understood a sneaker wave warning sign down on the coast in Florence. He shook his head no. Now, the Forest Service writes its instructions for say, on average, a seventh grade reading level. Today, we can’t assume that everyone can read at that level. It’s a real concern. There is lack of true reading and comprehension going on in America and Oregon today,” explained Seth Wilkinson, a retired Forest Service biologist.
That’s why Wilkinson and other think it’s so very cool that a group of dedicated University of Oregon and Oregon State students are involved with a global book reading program called “Better World Books.” The program has been introduced this summer at various state parks along the central Oregon coast as one means of attracting would be book readers to put their electronic gadgets aside and read.
“You would think that when one is saying camping that the Internet would be the last thing one would want to explore. Heck, it’s the great outdoors that you should be exploring. And, to compliment it, read some good books. Maybe I’m just old fashion but there’s nothing better than curling up with a good book at a camp site. The books and the natural atmosphere just take you away,” adds Wilkinson who turned 83 last week.
While seniors like Wilkinson are preaching to the choir when it comes to the importance of reading real books, those area college students who’ve volunteered this summer to promote Better World Books are making headway.
“It’s true that Better World Books has inspired a lot of university students to get more involved in various ways and means to support literacy. But, for me, it’s just a great way to give back by turning kids on to books, helping out our local libraries with more reading programs and just an endless opportunity for those of us who really appreciate the written word to pay it forward. And, at the end of the day, being able to read a book or a sign or whatever really improves one’s quality of life,” said college student Mark Grossman of the U of O.
Moreover, Grossman and it’s school mates plan to hit the camp sites and beaches for the remainder of August with something called a paper-back book.
“We got a big load of paperbacks that were donated to Better World Books. We’ve sorted out the classics, say Ken Kesey’s ‘Sometimes A Great Notion,’ and others such as one that Kesey would read in area schools before his death. It’s called ‘Moby Dick,’ and Kesey thought this book by Herman Melville was a great piece of literature. In concur. In fact, you’d be surprised to learn that many young people I’ve talked to don’t know it’s about a whale. Now, what better book to read at a coastal camp site than Moby Dick with all the whales we have out there in the big, wide Pacific,” added Grossman with a big smile.