I had a conversation with my eldest son the other day. He’s twenty years old, very bright, curious about politics, history and social justice. The problem is that he stopped reading books regularly when he was about fifteen.
So he gets his information from Reddit, links referred by friends, and documentaries. His opinions are strong, but I just had to point out to him that they lack depth. Quite simply, he is missing the wealth of knowledge that resides on bookshelves.
How can you understand the making of Australia without reading Xavier Herbert, Miles Franklin, Rolf Boldrewood, Sally Morgan, Kate Grenville, Alice Pung and Tom Keneally? For the same reasons, American society makes more sense when you’ve absorbed the great novels that came out of the sixties.
It doesn’t have to be highbrow fiction, either. Wilbur Smith, James Clavell and James A Michener gave me a series of history lessons I’ll never forget. I loved every minute of it, and I still do.
So now I’ve taken on the role of guide. When my son comes home from Uni, he finds a book waiting on his pillow. So far I’ve taken him to a Mongol village in ‘Wolf of the Plains,’ and to Australia’s Vietnam experience in ‘Count your Dead,’ by John Rowe. I’m turning him back into a reader, and he’ll be a better human being for it.