The elderly still cherish the printed word

September 10, 1992|By Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph

COLORADO, SPRINGS, COLO — COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Cecil Matthews' generation may be the last to prefer the printed word to the glowing tube.

"I read everything. Newspapers, novels, whatever I could get my hands on," he says, looking up from the Wall Street Journal he's reading at Penrose Public Library.

Mr. Matthews, 69, still considers the printed word a valued companion. He reads a half dozen novels and histories and twice as many newspapers and magazines each month.

For many men and women over 55, such heavy reading is standard.

When publishers conduct surveys to see who reads the most, seniors usually wind up at, or close to, the top of the list.

Author Fran Weaver, whose books focus on the aging experience, rejoices at her large following of mature readers.

"I'm just tickled to pieces," she says by phone. "I think senior readers are more discriminating. You won't see senior readers reading something just because it's at the top of the best-seller list."

A book sometimes has a different meaning to senior readers than to younger readers.

For example, while most younger readers were frightened by Michael Crichton's dinosaur-feeding-frenzy-thriller "Jurassic Park," Burnice Zents -- a member of a senior reading group, found it heartwarming.

"I think one reason I liked it is because my grandchildren love dinosaurs," Ms. Zents says. "They know every species. And I was thinking of them through the whole thing."

Senior readers also are generally more conservative in their reading tastes. Many are offended by the sex scenes that have become staples of popular fiction.

"I tend to like books written before 1960," Ms. Zents says. "I don't think all that foul language is necessary to be a good book. Sometimes people wonder how I read books so fast. It's because I skip over all the pages about sex."

But older readers can face greater blocks than offensive passages. Age can weaken the hands that hold the books, the eyes that see the print, the minds that follow the thoughts.

Ms. Weaver says she doesn't publish in hardback because she doesn't want her arthritic readers to suffer while holding her books.

Seniors with poor eyesight have discovered that large-print books can make reading much easier.

"We have a big demand for them, especially from the bookmobile that goes to the nursing homes in town," says Paula Williams, director of seniors programs for the Pikes Peak Library System.

Most large-print books used to have red and white covers, which gave them a slightly medicinal look. Now the covers are as glossy as those on small-print books.

Publishers also have started releasing small-print and large-print versions of the same title simultaneously, eliminating the previous six-month wait for a new title in large print.

On a recent afternoon, a 62-year-old retired librarian visiting Penrose Library was holding an armful of large-print mysteries -- her main entertainment. She says she pities younger people who don't value reading.

"Young people today, you can't talk to them about of lot of things because they haven't read. It's sad. Their worlds are just so small."

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