I'm inclined to think that an early familiarity with books, not later academic achievement, engenders lasting reading habits, and that said familiarity is deepened by the quality of our earliest education: habits taught to us by our parents, as well as our teachers from kindergarten through middle school.
Reading is an art as well as a skill, which means one must be initiated into it as well as taught. The same is true of its frequent object, literature.
The trick is early immersion. We don't go to college to learn how to swim, we master that skill as children. People who win Olympic medals tend not to start their training in their late teens.
I always tell parents to play classical music in the background during meals, and to leave books filled with photos of paintings and sculpture on low tables for their young children to explore. Don't try to say profound things about art to children. Just put the materials in their proximity, so that they learn to think of art as natural and familiar, rather than some desiccated mummy striking poses in concert halls and museums.
For an art to become vital to everyday culture, people have to become conversant with it.
Reading must become an activity people enjoy with their old friend, the tome, and not simply a required task involving some imposed and tedious end.
Adolescents who aren't exposed to Hadrian's Villa, Vermeer, Scarlatti, Bartok, Monteverdi, Beethoven, Durer, Corelli, Edgar Allan Poe, Hart Crane, Dostoyevsky, Giotto, Fra' Filippo Lippi, the Parthenon, El Lissitzky, Redon, Robert Browning, Stockhausen, Jacques-Louis David and Khlebnikov might not learn to incorporate these into their thoughts, nor will the brain employ them in its construction of the foundation of memory. Whereas those who are surrounded by art make a lasting place for it, so that it can rise up in the mind and offer substance whenever required.
When people say they've met smart people who never went to college but have also known clueless and/or uncultured people who did, they're often contrasting those who benefited from a good early education (Abraham Lincoln, Arnold Schoenberg, Ezra Pound) with those who grew up in sterile environments and then found themselves pursuing university-specific careers.
I used to see such people at Brown University, where they'd settle in to worship this or that professor. Their positions benefited, of course, but the quality of their work did not.
Last edited by Prestidigitweeze; 08-04-2011 at 10:08 AM.