On A Lack Of Reading
2003-06-23, 4:07 p.m.
Of all the silly things I've ended up going to for work purposes back in the reporting days, I had to go to a bench dedication ceremony today. (More like, forgot about it until we heard the applause outside the building, actually.) As you can imagine, this wasn't the most exciting thing, but at least they had free cake and cookies.
So I'm hanging out with another fellow young'un at the office (most of the activities of late have been revolving around one guy's retirement, and I just don't know him very well to have a particular opinion about it, much less get sappy about all the memories), talking about the weekend, and I go on about Harry Potter. She mentions that she should get the book for her sister that's a big reader, but she herself hasn't gotten past the middle of book 2 yet. I say I've finished it, and she's amazed, because she can't read something straight through like that.
This actually leads to her saying that, as I've heard out of nearly all of the people my age that I know, "I don't really like to read." Because, you know, books are hard and not much fun and who wants to read after college and she's got a short attention span and doesn't want to read anything longer than a magazine article any more. She was amazed that her sister actually liked to do it. Oh yeah, and that Shakespeare is really hard and not all that likeable beyond a few plays.
I don't mean to rag on this girl, I really don't. But I see someone who's intelligent and lovely who doesn't like to read, and it seems like a waste. She fits like, every stereotype of a person these days who is utterly turned off by reading for entertainment. And it makes me wonder, especially after Big Harry Potter Weekend Oí Reading For Everyone.
I think that in order to get someone interested in reading for life, youíre going to have to get them interested early. Preferably before they have to start reading books in school. Read to them as kids, get them interested in stories whenever and however you can, and sell them on reading in itself. Because lord knows, once they get into school the desire for reading is going to at least suffer.
I think the problem with this girl was in part that she didnít get to read anything interesting or good during school, and just lost all interest whatsoever. She had no idea that most of Shakespeare is actually about interesting plots instead of highfalutin language that nobody understands. (For those who donít understand Shakespeare, go watch a play sometime. Seriously. It all makes a LOT more sense when acted out in context.) She had no idea that, say, Victorian novels tend towards more soap opera and Jerry Springer-esque stuff than boring old seriousness, and that not every single Novel is dull as dirt. That not every novel is all about death and destruction and misery.
But lord knows, during school, thatís all youíll read about. Hell, if I hadnít been sold on reading before I got to middle school I certainly wouldnít have wanted to read afterwards. Letís face it, 80 percent of my subject matter (with the occasional To Kill A Mockingbird/Inherit The Wind/Brave New World thrown in for a change) that I was required to read from sixth grade through twelfth was either:
(a) Stories in which a boy has a dog (or other animal pet or pets) and the dog dies.
(b) Stories in which a bunch of boys (or animal boys) try to kill each other.
(c) War stories.
(d) Stories in which a man commits a crime or just wants to commit a crime involving boys.
(e) Stuff involving a lot of heavy symbolism.
In short, it was all very boy-man-war-death-depressing misery that I was subjected to every year. Hell, I could barely finish those things, you think I wanted to discuss them for four months apiece afterwards? And of course, being a college English major didnít exactly lead to me getting more uplifting material, though at least we moved on from boy-man-war-death to books that actually had a girl or two or even three in them and a plot not involving war or death. (Though I did have the female-centric 18th c. Brit Lit class known as ďWhores and RapistsĒ because well, there wasnít much else written about women then.) Even I wasnít much of a reader during college.
My point here is that by the time people get through their heavy required doses of The Doomsday Classics, if they didnít already love to read before then, theyíre not much going to have the urge to read again ever when they donít absolutely have to. Thereís not much one can do about the works assigned in schools, but getting people interested in stories on their own time is something that really needs to be worked on to compensate for this.
People badmouth Harry Potter for being a fad, people (including me oftentimes, to be honest) badmouth Oprahís frigging book club for leading people like sheep to read just because Oprah told them to. Lord knows I have my issues with those things at times myself. But at least those two things try to get people interested. And for my money, Iím delighted to see over 350 people (how many they were on by the time I left Friday night), most of them children and teenagers, chomping at the bit to read an 870-page book.