Wednesday, August 22, 2007

See Jane Read

Making the Internet rounds this morning there's already been quite a bit of discussion on the recent AP poll that 1 in 4 Americans didn't even read one book last year. Not one.

On the bright side is that this poll also means that 3 out of 4 (or 75%) of Americans are reading. Maybe not a lot, but they did pick up a book within the last year. So hey, all is not lost.

I have theories on why people "don't read like they used to" and most of it involves our culture's determination to suck all the fun out of the activity. Required reading lists in school. Accelerated reading lists. Book clubs and the ever pervasive snotty literary opinion that it's not a real book unless it bores you senseless.

We live in a culture that delights in telling people what they should read, why they should enjoy it, and how "clueless" they are if they just don't get it. What do you mean you didn't like Catcher In The Rye? What do you mean you don't believe Oprah is the Goddess Of Great Book Selection? Well, you must be a moron! Look at you. Turning up your nose at Salinger while you're reading Nora Roberts!

This is a tough subject for me to pontificate on, because librarians are often the biggest offenders of what I like to call Telling People What They Should Read For Their Own Good. Drives me bonkers. Listen, I don't care what you're reading, just keep reading. Graphic novels? Fine. Romance novels? Fine. Street Lit? Fine. True Crime? Fine. ::Shudder:: even Danielle Steel? Fine. Y'all are keeping me in business and making it possible for me to pay my rent every month.

I read a lot. Even my sisters, who grew up in the same household, will contend that I read a lot. My parents were (and are) good parents, but I honestly can't remember them ever reading a book for themselves when I was a kid. Too busy. Too tired. Both of them working full time and raising three kids. That said, we were encouraged to go to the library. We were encouraged to read. My mother does read a newspaper every, single day. Every day people! My father read to us. He can probably still recite most of Are You My Mother? from memory.

So even though I don't recall my parents reading books when I was growing up, I still turned out to be a librarian. My other sisters? High school English teacher and a nurse's aide who was reading to her children before they were a year old. They both love books now, although my nephew is still learning the finer points of "being gentle with paper."

Reading has to be made a priority, and it just isn't for some. Also, if they never developed that appreciation, they might have a really hard time reading a whole book. They figure, "I'll read this book that Oprah liked" or "SoAndSo told me the Pulitzer Prize winner was great" and they get stalled when they don't-like-the-book or frankly, it's too hard. Then they feel "stupid" for not getting it and just plain give up. They think that reading isn't for them.

My advice? Try to find something that you'd like to read. What kind of movies do you like to watch? Romantic comedies? Well maybe you'd like romance novels. Heist films? Well, maybe a suspense novel. Documentaries? Heck, just about any non-fiction on a particular subject that interests you. Star Wars? Hit the science fiction my friend. Is finding the time a problem? Have a long commute? Try audio books! And read at the level you're comfortable with. There is no shame in having reading difficulties. That's why God invented literacy programs (ask your local librarian if there's one in your area). 900 page book on the Civil War too daunting? See if you can find something in the YA section. The more you read, the better you get at it. Hey, if it weren't true I'd still be reading Nancy Drew.

So while it is a bit depressing that 25% of Americans aren't reading, it's not that shocking of a statistic for me. I know why it is. I know where it comes from. Now it's just finding a way to convert that 25%. What's the first step? Letting them discover what they like and not brow-beating them over it. Librarians, are you listening?


dancechica said...

“Reading has to be made a priority, and it just isn't for some.”

I’m glad you made that point—that habitual reading isn’t for everyone. While I do agree that reading is good, I also feel like it’s an interest, a hobby, like any other thing, such as playing basketball. Not everyone is going to have an interest in basketball. To me the same goes for reading. Not everyone is going to have an interest in reading and I don’t think it makes a person lazy or unintelligent if they don’t like to read (a commenter on another blog implied something along those lines in response to this article). And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t advocate reading but I also feel that if you don’t like reading, if your interests lie in other things, there’s nothing wrong with that anymore than there’s anything wrong with liking to read.

And there's my two cents for today. LOL. :-P

Nora Roberts said...

Gotta give Wendy an Amen.

Rosie said...

SL, I wish we could put this in all school bulletins from K to 12 the first week of school. Your point about reading lists killing the desire to read is so true particularly in K-6 schools.

Wendy said...

Dance Chica: I'd never question anybody's intelligence regarding their desire (or lack thereof) to read. More than a few people would question my intelligence because I like to read mainly genre fiction. Plus, maybe they aren't reading because of a learning disorder or again, they feel "stupid" for not liking that "great" book everyone is raving about (personally I thought The Da Vinci Code was the equivalent of ramming an ice pick up my nose). So no, that 25% isn't stupid. Just makes me want to go out and convert them all.

Nora: Hallelujah!

Rosie: Don't get me started on Accelerated Reading. I really loathe the concept. "No Johnny, you can't read that book you think looks good because it's a 3 and you have have to read a book that's a 5." Let the poor kids read what they want!

I do think required reading has a time and place in education - but let the kids explore a bit on their own as well.

Biblio Reader said...

Gah, I hate when kids are told what to read. Personally, I've never been damaged by anything I read as a child. Whether it's "below" their reading level or too far above, let them read it. Chances are, if it really isn't for them, they'll put it down.

I kept reading Animal Ark and Babysitter's Club when I was getting too old for them, and I turned out a total bibliophile. Read what's fun!