Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hey. Read: An Unsolicited Rant and a New Year’s Resolution

Note: this post is about the problem I personally have with aliteracy; and if you are currently aliterate, steps you can take to change that, if you'd like. If you or someone you know struggles with direct or indirect effects of illiteracy (functional or not), there are places that can help. One of my favorites is the website for the Florida Literacy Coalition, which is full of resources on the subject.  

I’ve heard and read about proud non-readers before, but my social media feeds lately have been full of people who say things like, “So glad this became a movie because I don’t read” and “if anyone gets me an E-Reader for Christmas I’m throwing it away” and various other ways to inform the world that this person dislikes written communication. People who have the means and opportunity to read, and yet proudly say that they don't.  Not like I actually care, but I originally wrote this post at 4 AM on a Friday morning because I couldn’t sleep because of People Like You.

I’m here to tell you: it’s most definitely not your fault that the word “reading” gets you so apathetic. Chances are you, like me, were told outright that you needed to take standardized tests because if you were sick that day the class wouldn't get enough money. Or maybe you went to a school where bodies in the seats weren't considered currency, but regardless your literacy was treated as a means to an end, rather than the gift to yourself that it is.

You were wronged; it's okay to be mad about it. But reading has so many personal benefits and the only person who is missing out by not reading is you.

I once was like you. It’s true. Me. The librarian and educator who literally went to school for reading, twice, and once to obtain a reading-related job. I went to undergrad for English because I wanted to make sure I didn't drop out, and I enjoyed reading books. By the time I graduated with honors in 2004, I HATED READING BOOKS. Freaking hated it. Though I still believed in the importance of reading (which is why I went back to school to get my literacy development Master’s degree) I personally did not pick up a book I hadn't read before for leisure between the years of 2004-2010. Reading felt like a chore, and I couldn't fully enjoy stories because I got hung up with stuff like “word choice”. My biggest pet peeve when reading is still when an author rediscovers a word and then uses it three times in one chapter. It took me awhile, but I got over it in favor of trying to really lose myself in a story.

I’m not sure what made me change my mind and start reading again, but it probably had to do with a long flight delay. The book was My Lobotomy by Howard Dully. This says way more about me than I wish it did, but there you have it.

Anyway, having come out on the other side, I encourage adults, especially parents, to get the reading bug again. Yes, parents, I have a higher expectation of you than other adults. As it should be, because you’re personally responsible for making a well-adapted human, and all. There’s a reason I haven’t chosen that path for myself and I truly appreciate those who have, because you keep me employed. But if you proudly proclaim that you don’t read I weep for your children, who are still making that decision for themselves and who look up to you and emulate you with everything they have.
All adults, though, have some child that looks to them guidance, even if they don’t know it. 

And for you, who feels just a twinge of maybe-I-kinda-want-to-read, I've developed a New Year’s Resolution:
The Couch to 5K for Non NEW-Readers*
*you can actually stay on the couch for the vast majority of it.

Week 1: Admit that you're a reader.
 Seriously, you read. You’re currently reading. I even have a

Horse_ebooks shirt that simply says on it, “Dear Reader, You Are Reading.” And when you’re reading that shirt, you ARE a reader and you ARE reading. If you consider yourself  Full Time Internet, you're a reader (even though the Internet doesn't promote deep reading). You probably even read the comments. You still consider yourself a non-reader anyway. You know who doesn't get that you DO read when you don't identify as a reader (or more gross, proudly proclaim that you don't read)? Your freakin kid. Think about what kind of literal intellectual sloth you might be raising with your words for a second, and talk to your kid about WHAT reading you like to do and WHY you like it. (I was actually shocked when researching this that there are people who consider themselves non-readers yet still read 3-4 books for leisure a year. That's probably how much I read (yeah, I'm a slow reader) and I would never think of myself that way. So yeah, stop it, you're a reader. Hate to break it to you.)

Week 2: Watch a movie based on a book: I'm a not even one to say, definitively, that the book is always better. But watch a movie based on a book, and acknowledge that you are. If you’re a parent, does your kid know that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a book? How about The Lorax? Polar Express?
How about Hunger Games?

Are you SURE?
Go ask. I'll wait.
Watch a movie based on a book, and think or talk about that it was a book first. Would you read it now that you knew what happens in it? Why or why not?
Hey look, built-in discussions for
that quality family time you’re supposed to be having!

Week 3:
Get a library card: see, I didn't even make this Week 1. Deep down I’m really nice. Remember going to the library as a little kid, and how fun that was, or calming, or whatever? As a non-reader, do you know what your kid DOESN'T get to do? Go to the library as a little kid. Reading books maps our brains to be smart and empathetic, and this can happen to adults as well. So yeah. Stop being a jerk. Get on that.

Never went to the library as a kid? Forgive your parents. The cycle stops now.

Once you get a library card, however, you don't even have to ever set foot in the library. You can
check out eBooks from anywhere. (I would love it if you began a library routine, though. Maybe that will be next year’s resolution.)

Week 4: Try an audio book: are you somebody who likes to
listen to podcasts on a long car ride? Audio books are just like that. Except they're like three hour podcasts starring Tim Curry or Neil Patrick Harris. If you don’t like podcasts, you might not like audiobooks, and that’s okay. Watch another movie based on a book. You can now get one at the library with your shiny new library card. You’re welcome.

Week 5: Check out/buy AND READ a book you read as a child: Choose Your Own Adventure, Babysitters Club, Goosebumps. The gang's all here. Well they might not be, because you jerk faces haven’t checked them out since you were kids
so now we had to go and get rid of them  because library space is finite and Don’t You Feel Awful. Sometimes they’ve been reincarnated in graphic novel form. Hey, speaking of graphic novel TYPE things (I KNOW they’re comics, librarians, but they’re housed in the graphic novel section here), you could also try a Calvin and Hobbes anthology. Bring the book home. Let your kid see you reading it. Better yet, read it with your kid. Talk about it over dinner or on the ride to school (if you’re not a parent, but live with a significant other or roommate, do this with them instead. It'll be weird at first but then it will spawn conversations you never even thought to have, like how “Country Grammar” is based on a playground rhyme and they never knew that until we read Eleanor and Park aloud together and who the hell am I marrying. (But that’s just an example. A very, very sad example. One that I’m just going to have to live with now.)

Week 6: Find a book you might like to read as an adult. This could
be a teen or kid's book; It doesn't matter. Just read. Look at bestseller and best-of lists for good ideas, or ask a librarian because it's our job to match books to your weird ass tastes. Hit me up and we’ll talk (brycedontplay at gmail).

Week 7: Start reading for you. Set a goal: seriously, just read five books this year. Or three. Or one. And here’s a PROTIP: you don’t have to finish a book because you start it. That’s right. If you start a book and you can’t see yourself reading it (or hate-reading it), just put it down and look for another one. It’s not for an assignment. No one will think worse of you for not liking a specific book. Take the sage advice of the late prophet Aaliyah, and dust yourself off and try again. 

You're welcome for the earworm, btw.

You can do it, and the kids in your life will see you reading, and they'll think it's cool too.

Adding something on top of everything you’re already doing might not be the easiest thing. I get that. But I bet adding reading as a hobby, you'll spend less time watching TV, or on Facebook, or a slew of other stuff adults like to promise themselves in the New Year. Ideally I’m asking
twenty minutes a day, which, as I tell the city’s kids each year, is the equivalent of the total time of commercials you watch during an hour-long cable program. But reading—ANY reading—can help improve your life.

If any self proclaimed “non-readers” would like to take up this challenge and start reading deliberately, let me know! I got your back with some heavily GIF-littered cheerleading, and ask nothing in return (except for possibly a contribution to a future post on this blog, of course)


  1. *stands up*
    *applauds loudly*
    Well said.