How often have you heard people say that? Or even: I don’t have time to read? Bah!
I strongly suspect that people who dislike reading largely struggle with it. As a primary teacher once said to me: a child cannot enjoy reading if they are still mastering the basic skills/techniques. The same applies to adults.
As a child, and a fairly economically-challenged one at that, my gift of choice was always a book. Dolls bored me, and knitting sets never came out of the wrapper. So-called ‘boy’ toys were a little better, but what I always really, really wanted at Christmas, birthdays, and any other time someone was kind enough to give me a gift, was a book. I lived in a relatively book-free household so built up a small collection of children’s classics for myself. They cost 2s/6d; to me they were treasure, entry into other worlds, fuel for the imagination, relief from the boredom that childhood often used to be and, little did I know it, a pathway to literacy. I could read the same ones over and over if I needed to; each time, something new was discovered.
It is quite sad to hear of people who do not enjoy reading, for they will never know the joy of escape, albeit temporary. One of my favourites as a child was the Susan Coolidge set of ‘Katy’ books which contained marvellous quotes that summed me up (for I, in my imagination, was Katy).
“She read all sorts of things: travels, and sermons, and old magazines. Nothing was so dull that she couldn’t get through with it. Anything really interesting absorbed her so that she never knew what was going on about her. The little girls to whose houses she went visiting had found this out, and always hid away their story-books when she was expected to tea. If they didn’t do this, she was sure to pick one up and plunge in, and then it was no use to call her, or tug at her dress, for she neither saw nor heard anything more, till it was time to go home.”
Katy also encouraged me to aspire:
“I mean to do something grand. I don’t know what, yet; but when I’m grown up I shall find out.Perhaps, it will be rowing out in boats, and saving peoples’ lives, like that girl in the book. Or perhaps I shall go and nurse in the hospital, like Miss Nightingale. Or else I’ll head a crusade and ride on a white horse, with armor and a helmet on my head, and carry a sacred flag. Or if I don’t do that, I’ll paint pictures, or sing, or scalp – sculp – what is it? you know – make figures in marble. Anyhow it shall be something.”
Enough nostalgia (though I do firmly believe that if we can encourage children – people – to love reading, they will learn to think) for reading has other benefits.
Chiefly, it is well-known that renowned writers recommend reading.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King
Reading also excuses you from many things. People generally perceive reading as ‘a good thing’, so we tend not to disturb a reader. One Christmas, I had an essay to write on Middlemarch. First, I had to read it. It’s a long book. Thankfully, at that time, the claim “I have to read this book” excused me from a great deal of daily dull duty in my diary…one of my better Christmasses!
How Reading Helps Writing
“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.” – William Faulkner
1. Reading helps us to absorb information, language, spelling, and experiences. Our brains are rather better than sponges, but in order to process, we first need to have had opportunity to absorb.
2. We begin to learn the difference between high quality and lower quality writing (all are equally important). As a child, if nothing else was available, I’d read the tabloids, or re-read books. All genres and qualities fed into my brain’s language store.
3. It makes a good deal of sense to focus in. Wish to be a blogger? Then read all sorts, but especially blogs. Wish to be a crime writer? Read all sorts, but especially the crime genre. Wish to write articles? Read all sorts, but especially newspapers/magazines.
4. For academic writing, reading is essential to provide evidence in a quality answer.
“Writing is not a skill that students learn separate from other processes. It combines many complex activities, including categorizing, building key terms and concepts for a subject, measuring one’s reaction to a subject, making new connections, abstracting, figuring out significance, and developing arguments—to name a few. Our highest cognitive functions are developed and supported through active and interconnected use of language—speaking, listening, reading, and writing” – Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
5. Certain, specific books. might help. I’m not keen on the lists of others, but this one is quite useful because it explains how reading specific titles has helped the author in specific ways.
6. I know someone who dislikes the feel of books, especially second-hand or previously used ones. If that’s the case, check out electronic reading media, such as Kindle or iBook.
Children benefit enormously from reading. Long before they can actually read, they develop an understanding of the importance of literacy. Instilling (in a structured, but not coerced, way) a love of reading stands them in good stead for academic achievement, but also the happy skill of losing themselves in books.
Adults who are not keen readers need to start with something relevant. I recently heard of an intelligent woman who reads little, even on holiday, when she has all the time in the world. She loves gardening. On her last holiday, she finally found a book which she thought was amazing. It was about some people moving to Italy and creating a garden. So good was it, that she lent it to a friend. The friend, less of a gardener, found it less enticing. What works for one may not for another!
Moral of that story: find something which appeals to the interests of a reluctant reader (young or old) and watch a new literary love affair begin.
Upshot: If you want to write, then read. Even if you don’t want to write, just read! Stop making excuses, just do it. If you struggle to read, due to literacy issues, that’s different. Check out The Literacy Trust to see if you can change that.
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert – it’s all about a woman struggling with ennui, finding that men and shopping are not the answer to boredom.
Germinal – Emile Zola – this is, frankly, monumental. All about oppression and the poor not inheriting the earth.
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks – a British soldier serves in the front line in Amiens in World War I – incredible writing of love scenes and underground wartime mining.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D. H. Lawrence – want to write about love? Check this guy out for rich language, no drivel.
Odd Girl Out – Laura James – factual, Laura discovers in her 40s that she has Aspergers, which explains some of life’s struggles, being autistic in a neurotypical world.
If all of that sounds a bit too OTT, there are plenty of fabulous pick up, put down novels out there, too. Just enjoy.