I’ve noticed a trend among people my age: they don’t read for fun.
This is a problem, but not because other media– movies, TV, video games– are inferior. It’s an issue because those who neglect to read miss out on an art form with both practical and aesthetic benefits.
I’ve come up with a few points for a non-reader to consider. These aren’t perfect, and they certainly aren’t empirical. I present them not as a treatise but as a way to begin a “conversation” on how we can get young people– not just primary school students, but college kids as well– to fall in love with literature.
First, a concession: reading is work.
Most of us are lucky enough to understand basic sentences without effort. Reading a book, fiction or non-fiction, is much harder. One paragraph, not to mention a page, contains a number of images and details that the reader must process and store away for later recall. This is a challenge.
Long-time and passionate readers have gotten so used to this operation that it becomes instinctive.
With practice, this can be you. But why do it in the first place?
Obviously, reading leads to better writing. Equally obvious is the importance of writing in the workplace, school, and in life in general.
Good (or at least stylistic) writing is as much about rhythm and sound as it is conveying ideas. By reading the best and brightest authors, you can see what styles work best and from that work to emulate it on your own.
But what about talking? Being able to write a perfect sentence is a good skill, yes, but the average person will spend more time in social situations than typing on a computer.
Thus, having a knack for talking is a must. If you struggle with public speaking, there are coaches, classes, and clubs that can help. But they can only do so much.
Reading is the best way to sit down with a trusted word worker and study their craft. Being exposed to a great writer’s voice– whether somber, vulgar, or crazy– can change your outlook on language and make discourse a little easier.
If you spend more time watching MTV than reading books, your speech will likely suffer. The level of discourse on most TV shows, including the news, is… well, low. I imagine even the silliest of airport novels has a higher vocab level than an American TV program.
Sure, quoting Timon of Athens in a boardroom won’t help your reputation too much. But going through the mind-tickling machine that is a Shakespeare play will exercise your talking muscles.
I can’t force you to like literature. No one can. Nor can I explain to you why reading is fun. Pleasure is subjective. But… I’d like to show that books entertain in different ways from film and television.
The fact that reading takes effort is a major turn-off for some. But that critique can be turned into a point of praise if you look at it from a different perspective.
An author is the creator of a book– this we know. But the creator only does part of the work. The writer starts the process, but you, dear reader, finish the book with your own brain.
This, I believe, explains the old “the book was better than the movie” phenomenon. A reader “sees” a novel in the same way a viewer “sees” a movie. Of course, when you watch a film, you’re strapped to a chair and forced to see what the director has decided to show you.
Not to mention that a character’s thoughts, the lifeblood of many great novels, can’t be displayed or spoken on screen. Well, they technically can, but filmmakers and fans in general don’t like that. Film, of course, is a visual medium.
“Now Ethan,” you say, “you’ve somehow convinced me to read more despite your flimsy arguments and straw man attacks.”
“How do I start?”
The first step is to find the right time. Or rather, the right time frame. Promising yourself to read at 8:30 every night is not a good idea. Saying that you’ll read after dinner, or before bed, or on the train… that’s a good idea.
“Print or eBook?”
Well, that’s up to you. At home, I use my iPad. On the road, I read on my phone. I hear some people still like the smelly paper things they sell in stores. That’s fine, too.
“And… are audiobooks fine?”
Sure, why not.
I was once like you. Each day in high school, I had the same after-class routine. I’d plop myself on the couch and play Madden (or Mario) until it was time to go to sleep. I only read two or three non-assigned books when I was an upperclassman.
Soon, when it was time to go to college, I got tired of that. My brain was fried, and more importantly, I felt that I was missing out an entire world of cool stories.
I eased my way into reading more. First it was non-fiction audiobooks. Then it was recordings of classic novels like Huck Finn and Lolita. Then, finally, I got the courage– and energy– to put a book in my hands.
Just do it. Go on Amazon (or to a brick and mortar store) and buy a book. Sit down and enjoy. This sounds like a command– and I guess it kind of is– but if you have the right mindset, being told not to read would be punitive.