Tuesday 17 May 2016

Why People Hate Reading (Fiction)

Consider the following meme:

"Books are useless. I only ever read one book, To Kill a Mockingbird, & it gave me no insight on how to kill mockingbirds!" - Homer Simpson
On the face of it, that's just a funny quote. But when you're done laughing, take a deeper look: are jokes like that a symptom of the culture that we live in, a culture that's rejected reading for pleasure as a boring waste of time? I mean, why read a book when you can watch TV, right?

Personally, I think there may be an element of truth to this (that it's a symptom of our culture, not that books are boring wastes of time), but it's also a bit more complicated than that. Let me explain.

I think there are two groups of people who share funny quotes like this. The first group is non-readers, people who either don't read books at all, or perhaps only read non-fiction. These people see quotes like this and laugh at the idiocy of people who read, mocking us as geeks, nerds, outcasts, and general social misfits.

The other group is comprised of readers. People who devour books, both for learning and for pleasure. We see these quotes as a way to mock non-readers for being uncultured, uncivilised, empathy lacking brutes. Or, we pity them because they haven't experienced the true joy of reading.

I think the truth is probably somewhere in between. Yes, the Internet is filled with all the scientifically proven benefits of reading (not the least of which is that it improves empathy), and it's important that we evangelise how awesome it is whenever we can.

But there's another problem, and this is where I think we readers are sometimes at fault as well. People are sometimes of the opinion that the only "real" reading, or the only reading that gives any benefit, is when you read the classics (Like, in fact, To Kill a Mockingbird).

The thing is, some people just aren't going to enjoy To Kill a Mockingbird. Or Lord of the Flies. Or A Tale of Two Cities. Or any of the other well-known classics that are on every "Books to read before you die" list.

What is someone to do, if they're been indoctrinated to believe they should read the classics, but they've tried, and hated every minute? I think a lot of them decide that reading's not for them, and they give up trying.

This is a big problem; a school principal in the UK recently wrote a scathing blog post, saying that reading modern fantasy like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, among others, causes mental illness (he was wrong, of course).

Personally, I hated To Kill a Mockingbird, and didn't get very far into Lord of the Flies, either. A Tale of Two Cities was... okay, but hardly worth the hype. I'm sure there are loads of people like me. The difference is, I found other things to read. Things I really enjoy.

So, fiction lovers, let's stop being snobbish about reading (and while I'm about it, let's stop being snobbish about our preference for paper books over e-books over audio books, too). There are millions - perhaps billions - of books in the world, and I can say with one hundred per cent certainty that there's something for everyone. Why don't you help someone find a book that they will love?

About Graham Downs

I'm a self-published fiction author living in South Africa. At the moment, I write short stories, novelettes, and flash fiction collections, in a range of genres. These books are perfect for people who long to read, but don't have the time, because they can be read in short, sharp bursts, like during your lunch break, or while your baby's catching a nap!

To find out more about me, and what I have on over, go take a look at my website, at http://www.grahamdowns.co.za/.

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