Are Books the New Cigarettes?

Posted on July 28, 2008

Are books the new cigarettes? A new program in Britain called the Adopt a Book Scheme aims to encourage reading in the workplace. The idea is that workers could take a reading break, kind of like some workers now take a smoking break.

[C]learly this won't provide a license to lounge all day in your swivel chair, engrossed in Richard and Judy's latest recommendation. It seems that as with smoking, reading is deemed something best done away from your desk. Although as anti-social activities go, it is of course a lot healthier.

The scheme's creators would no doubt agree. Their concept seems to be this: businesses choose a book for all their employees to read which they then bulk buy at discounted prices. Copies are distributed to the grateful masses. Employees then embark on a reading experience which sees smoking rooms transformed into literary salons, breezing with smokeless air and the invigorating blasts of bookish debate. Working relationships flourish, communication skills are universally improved and teams are well and truly built.

Are you feeling cynical yet? Embracing the ameliorative powers of literature is all well and laudable but there do seem to be a few problems here. Not least the matter of what book to chose and who will chose it.

The people behind the project are no doubt well-intentioned souls who long to bring the power of the printed work to stressed out workers. But there's a flaw in their reasoning: current studies reveal that most workers are either reading blogs, gossip columns or online excerpts of Madonna's brother's new books -- or doing a bit of online shopping. They certainly don't have time for a real-world reading break. That's best left for evenings and weekends.

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