Not by any standard would I consider myself the most well-read person around. But, in my circles, I would say that I could hold my own, well, at least with regard to fiction. I’ve been more connected to reading in recent years, more so than I was when I was an adolescent. I was living a different life then, running around with different thoughts. But, regardless of that, here I am, a responsible reader, and I guess in writing this, I’m trying to find out several things. One is what that means – a responsible reader? After that it’s about the role reading plays in my life. The truth is it takes work. Why do it at all?
Going back early enough, I remember my dad reading to me. Pictures, first, of course. Those were what got me, but it wasn’t long before I was grabbing the books which tended to be heavier on the words than the images. Some titles still come to mind – the basic fairy tales, of course, The Adventures of Frog and Toad, Where the Wild Things Are, and others. He would take me to the library and I would come home with a hefty selection of books, all which I would read by the time we went back the following week. I remember very clearly a period in my youth during which my father and I would close the day by lying in bed together (single parent), each with a night light on our respective sides of the bed, reading. It was just us, quiet and alone, floating amid the winds of our unique literary destination. I would be reading something suitable for me, for where I was in life, for the kind of life I wanted to live. There was one particular series of books (which I haven’t even voiced thirty years, come to think of it) called Dakota King by Jake Mackenzie, an action-packed mystery series for young adults which always had the bad guy get caught in the end with his picture (a real-life mugshot) on the last page. I couldn’t get enough. Once I read the series, I recall spending more and more time looking for when the next book would come out. Then there was that weird period during school when the Scholastic Readers order forms would be passed out. I always thought the books were pretty expensive, and I would usually pass them up. But my dad always made me feel that it was okay to order what I wanted, which I knew wasn’t fully true. Dad, I wanted somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 books. Nah.
My dad always liked westerns, and the only author I recall him reading is Louis L’more. He would go through a ton of those. It wasn’t my thing at the time, but it was his, and that was good enough for me. I liked dragons and time machines and treasure hunts with ghosts. He liked shoot-outs, and tavern gossip, and riding around on horses going after the outlaws. Growing up, I realize that those were simply the stories my parents grew up with. My mom recalls fondly of how there was a clear distinction between the good and the bad back then. The hero wore the white hat and the bad guy (or just “the bad”) wore the black hat. That was it. The hero always saved the girl and there always seemed to be a variation of “riding off into the sunset,” – saving the day.
It was then that I think I sort of came into the idea that each person’s penchant belonged just to that person, and it didn’t have to agree with anyone else. As long as you enjoyed turning the pages and you were into what was in your hands, that really was all that mattered.
Fiction has always been my reading priority. Non-fiction was always there to tell me how the world was, and I just wasn’t interested in that. Firstly because that shit’s boring for the most part, and secondly, how the hell does anyone know what the “real world” is made up of? This is not me making an attempt at bashing non-fiction, nor is my adamant rejection of the genre altogether – no, I’m just saying, in my own way, that it wasn’t my thing.
Once you realize that there’s a way for you to fly, you just want to go ahead and do that. That’s what my mindset was, at least, when it came to fiction, and that all started at an early age. I found out I could fly.
Here’s where I think reading is important, and this is simply my opinion here. There’s nothing I’m going to throw in here which has to do with statistical data or valid case-study proof. This is just me. It’s important for parents to read to their kids so that children understand that limits are a product of the mind. It’s important to believe in possibility – not in what can’t be accomplished, but what can be. It’s important to foster in the mind of a child that she/he can choose what path to take and, though there may be consequences for his/her choice, there may also be great reward. The stories we read to our children, the narratives which they are exposed to will sharply define the manner in which they process their choices in the future. Again, there’s no science there; just my opinion.
Let’s take Where the Wild Things Are for example. We have our protagonist, Max, a kid who dresses up as a beast, creates havoc in his house and is sent to bed. His room unfolds and transforms into a jungle where he meets other similar beasts called “Wild Ones.” He plays with them and is raised to the level of “King of the Wild Ones.” Why not tell our children that it’s okay to break rules once in a while? It’s okay to ask questions and test things out? It will not destroy your relationship with your parents, you will not be punished severely or beaten. In fact, most importantly, you will make a courageous choice and you will learn something. Perhaps many of us may get into the habit as parents of simply telling our kids that they need to infuse their heads with more and more data so that they don’t fall behind in life. This is an idea I not only disagree with, but think is sad. We’re so consumed by giving them more to carry oftentimes, that we fail to allow them to be themselves and explore the outer limits of their own thoughts.
Non-fiction certainly has its merits, and those should be recognized for what they are, primarily education. I’m not counting the textbooks we receive in our high schools. No, those are written for a particular purpose (yes, as are all non-fiction books), and ultimately the knowledge therein is paid for by the state (unless it’s a private school). The beauty of non-fiction comes down to choice, and it’s not a digression I’d like to take too far down the Rabbit Hole. Basically, the freer your society, the more choice you have – ideally. In that understanding, reading of non-fiction is best done with desire. Making a kid read a book about the American Civil War in American History class when the kid really has only a minor interest in Canadian history if anything, is not helping. What I’m getting at here is that non-fiction reading should be done out of desire for it to stick. Yes, an educated populous sounds like a pretty cool idea, but A. (you may be able to tell) I’m really not interested, and B., data and knowledge only comes to the mind easily if people want to learn.
Personally, I’ve never been a big data person. I just don’t care enough about it. How many people really voted in the election, what the percentage of Hungarian speakers in Uganda is, how many World Series the Oakland A’s have won, where the next Super Bowl will take place, or whose research on Second Language Acquisition is the most prominent, etc. does not matter to me. I know what I know for my job and that’s about it. I don’t have any hobbies that really require me to know a lot of data. Some people just want to know stuff to compete with others. This happens in business and politics. When one side comes up with a particular argument, the opposing side has a counter-argument already prepared. That thinking has never been my strong suit. Why do I care if someone else has a different opinion than mine? It just sounds like puerile thinking.
A: I’m right!
B: No, I’m right!
A: No, I’m right!
Umm..no. I’m not going to get into the whys and the why-nots here. I’m saying that you should read non-fiction if that’s your thing. If you love it, then do it. Period.
The truth is no one reads today. By “no one,” I mean much fewer people than in the past. I don’t think that’s simply my opinion; I would say that’s probably statistical. Reading is something that the people of the modern (“technically savvy”) world are not okay with. I mean they do read, but it’s different. They read on screens all day long, and it’s really not reading; it’s more like scanning. It’s sifting through data. Have you noticed how long articles are any more? They’re not. They’re über short. Why? Well, overall our attention spans have shortened. We do more “reading” on our phones than ever before and, it’s absurd the number of daily distractions we have to meander just to keep our focus on one sentence any more. Our phones are going off, everywhere we go, there are other people’s phones. Screens are ubiquitous, and the regular noise of society has graduated from a buzz to a growl, it seems.
Reading quiets the mind, and silence tends to be a scary place for the younger generations of today’s world citizen – those who subsist in the daily pool of noise and Twitter updates. I’m not talking about reading from a screen; I’m talking about reading leisurely from something on paper – a book, a magazine, even a good old-fashioned newspaper. This isn’t me saying that you should sit in a room in total silence. This isn’t full meditation, but in all honesty, I would be inclined to liken it to the activity, and perhaps even say that it can be seen as a type of meditation. It’s one of the few activities of the modern day when it’s just time with yourself. And this can take effort these days. It can take a struggle, a fight, and the enemy are your distractions.
We are inundated with them. In the 70s, the average person would be exposed to somewhere around 500 advertisements a day. That seems like a lot. Imagine 500 people trying to see you something in one day.
We are now up to somewhere in the neighborhood of 5000 ads a day (Johnson, 2006). That’s not all. That’s just the number of people knocking on your eye door demanding that you look at them. That number does not reflect all of the times our eye balls seek out our own screens: cell phones, tablets, Kindles, mobile game consoles (PS Vita, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, etc). This is us (more and more the younger generation) seeking out (sometimes with almost animalistic determination) our screens (KXAN, 2017).
That’s why I mean you have to struggle. You very literally have to fight off every tendency your body has to look, listen, or place your attention elsewhere. It takes a degree of courage sometimes to tell others that you’re reading or that you’re planning to read. You can’t go out; you can’t play; hang at the bar, whatever. Your time is your time, and this is how you’re going to use it.
That’s a different direction that where I’d want to go. Let’s just say that if you’re not a reader, you may want to start it up. Don’t keep your head down as you pass a library or a bookshop and think, Ah, maybe next time. Next time, I’ll totally going inside and then…Then I’m gonna really make the effort to …read. Don’t make it a chore. Reading should be something you very much look forward to.
Okay, I’m closing here. I hope you find the time and the gift to read to yourself, for yourself, by yourself.
Doesn’t matter what you read, as long as you do it for yourself.
- Johnson, C. (2006, September 17). Cutting through advertising clutter. Retrieved from: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cutting-through-advertising-clutter/
- KXAN. (2017, January 23). Woman stomped to death after fight over cell phone. Retrieved from: http://wspa.com/2017/01/23/women-stomped-to-death-after-fight-over-cell-phone/