- by C.L. Wilson
“Reading is boring!”
I’ve heard this refrain from (regrettably) so many people through the years, both adults and children (even my own!). And, at least in the case of my children, the phrase “Reading is boring!” is usually accompanied in short order by a surly, “This book is stupid. I don’t know why we have to read this stupid, boring book!”
As an avid reader—and a writer—hearing people diss my favorite pastime (and my livelihood) causes a unique sort of pain in my heart. I’m not sure what hurts more—children condemning reading to the rubbish heap, or adults doing so. I think adults, because there’s a much smaller chance of overcoming a dislike that has been ingrained over a period many years—and because adults have considerably fewer leisure hours than children, and are thus far less likely to experiment with a pastime they already associate with boredom. And adults who hate reading are unlikely to encourage their children to become ravenous readers.
But why do so many people dislike reading? (And let’s face it, far more people watch a movie than read the book from which it was made.)
I contend that most people don’t actually dislike reading; they just never learned to love it. Or, rather, they never found that book—that one special story—that zapped their minds, hearts, and imagination like a lightning bolt and sucked them in so completely they couldn’t tear themselves away, couldn’t keep from turning pages to find out what happened next, couldn’t put the book down, and when they reach the end, couldn’t stop combing the bookstore and library shelves looking for more stories that would make them feel the same way.
For many (even most?) people, when it comes to defining which sorts of fiction are classified as “boring,” literary classics invariably land near the top of the heap. (You should have heard the ripping Will Shakespeare got over Romeo and Juliet from my teenage daughter.) Remembering some of the material I had to read in high school, I understand why. Many of the works presented to students as “required reading” have little or no relevance to the students’ lives or interests (and some are written in language so archaic they’re indecipherable without footnotes to provide translation and historical context). For children who are not surrounded by books at home, is it any wonder they assume reading is more work than fun, and is therefore something to be avoided? I’m not saying classic literature is bad. I’m an English major. I love books, including many classic literary novels (although I swear I’ll claw my eyes out before I ever read Nathaniel Hawthorne again). I’m just saying much of it no longer speaks to a modern audience or to the topics that interest and concern them. And when it comes to current literature, the complaint I hear most often is “it’s depressing”.
And therein lies a problem. The primary purpose of any written work is to communicate, but a book cannot communicate if readers won’t read it—or can’t understand, enjoy or connect with the book if they do read it.
To make matters worse, many of the books that do connect with large numbers of readers (popular fiction) are often dismissed by the literary community (including other genre authors) as being of little or no value. Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight books have turned millions of teens into avid readers, and yet hardly a day goes by that I don’t read some slam against her books. I read the first book. I enjoyed it. My two daughters read the first book when I was done with it, and they promptly both demanded I buy them each their own copy of the subsequent books, so they didn’t have to share. My middle child is now a ravenous reader–my pocket book whimpers every time we enter a bookstore–and if my eldest weren’t neck deep in IB homework, she’d be reading more fiction too. As it is, since summer, she’s read the Kite Runner, and A Thousand Splendid Suns, and wants to read The Lovely Bones when I’m done with it.
Here, I’m going to put in a little plug for romance novels. I’ve read romance novels since I was a teen. I love them. Yes, there are some I don’t love, but the ones I do love are just delightful. I know a number of people (my younger sister, my best friend’s dyslexic brother, several others) who hated reading until they discovered romance novels. The fast paced, emotional read sucked them in, kept them invovled in the story, kept them turning pages. Many of them have gone on to read many other kinds of books, but romance was the genre that turned them into avid readers. Thriller author Tess Gerritsen wrote a blog in defense of the romance novels she wrote at the start of her career that touches on the subject of reading for pleasure. In the blog, she coins the phrase “legume literature” (or as I prefer to call them, “broccoli books”)—books that people don’t really want to read, but feel like they must because those books are “good for them” (ie, approved as “distinguished literature” by the literati). In the blog, Ms. Gerritsen also talks about meeting a reader who had almost quit reading altogether because she had “forgotten that books are supposed to be fun!”
This makes me sad. I’m a firm believer that reading should be a pleasure, and not a guilty one. Whether literature, popular fiction, poetry, graphic novels, there’s room enough in this world to appreciate a wide variety of reading selections and to celebrate each genre for what it does best. And one of the things genre fiction does best is teach people that reading can be fun (not boring!), and that helps make readers for life.
Question of the day: What was the book that turned you into an avid reader? The first book you read that made you go “Wow!” and want to reread it again as soon as you hit the last page (or at least reread the good bits)? If you were someone who disliked or struggled to get through any book, what was the first book that made you want to keep turning the pages?