When do people start to hate reading?

For us readers, the answer is “Never! How could you ask such a silly question? What’s wrong with you? Do you even book, bro?” But the reality is that a significant chunk of the population have not read a book in the last year, and/or aren’t regular readers. We have to admit: some people don’t like reading.*

I have a pet hypothesis** on this. During school, mainly high school, kids start to hate reading. This is because teachers, academics, literary people, policy makers, and general busybodies, start to decree what kids should and shouldn’t be reading. As a result, kids are “forced” to read books that they aren’t interested in or that have won an award or are a “classic” or that fill a certain level of appropriate snootiness that appeases book snobs.

Or as Blackadder put it:

In the academic text – From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers – Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward discuss this issue. They outline this problem and have summarised reluctant readers with a cartoon from Dav Pilkey (of Captain Underpants fame).

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Cartoon by Dav Pilkey in From Striving to Thriving by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward

One of the authors, Annie Ward, presented at a readers summit recently and one of her slides has made it to social media. It covers some key points for how educators become “book wardens” who restrict reading and undermine reading ownership and choice. Book Wardens tend to:

Sound familiar?

While I have frequently focussed on the snobbery aspect to this problem, particularly from the reading/publishing industry itself, there is more to this. Take for example “just right” books and adults. What image do we conjure up when someone mentions comic book readers? Pimply teenage boy? An obese virgin loser who still lives with his parents? You know, this guy:

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The problem with that series of assumptions is that it is a form of reading snobbery. How could a comic be entertaining to anyone who isn’t a loser? Or similar statements that you’ll hear from people who have never read a comic book and battle to wrap their head around the art form.

In other words, even as adults, we are encouraging people not to read.

But don’t worry, as Dav’s second-page shows, we can all make a difference to people by encouraging them.***

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*A quarter of people (24-26%) haven’t read a book recently. I’ve previously discussed the reading figures for the USUK, and Australia and it is interesting how the figures come together. Suffice to say, reading is not a favourite hobby for most people.

**Hypothesis because a theory is something pretty solidly supported, whereas a hypothesis is a question you want to answer. Join me in my scheme to change the values that will stop the positive feedback of the colloquial usage of theory today!

***Although in fairness, the literary snobs are trying to encourage people to read. Their failing is that they think what they like should be what everyone reads. They have us talking about guilty pleasures and judging what we read by their standards rather than just letting us read stuff we enjoy.

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19 thoughts on “Loving reading and book wardens

  1. I love books. I read between 2-4 a week usually. This week it was 4, mainly because my car is down and I’m taking the bus a lot. However, I don’t see books as my main form of reading any more. I read no poetry books but I read poetry every day on blogs. Same with short fiction and essays. So using books (even ebooks) as a determinant for a country’s literacy or reading habits is shortsighted.

    I am though concerned about the profitability of books going down as I rarely read ebooks — I like hard copy. A lot of used bookstores have closed and those that remain open have big sections on used videogames and other goods with their book sections increasingly shrinking.

    I don’t think people are reading less though, I think they are reading differently. By the time some people are done reading their Twitter and FB feeds, they don’t have the energy to read something else that isn’t as tiny as a soundbite. I read about 20 blogs a day so I no longer buy magazines or newspapers although I still read a few articles online as I find them. I read a book on top of that but some people after reading 20 blogs and online mag articles, don’t have the time to read a book except maybe on their days off. To say a blog is not a book would depend on a the blog — and a surprising number of them are becoming books.

    BTW, on that survey my mother would have answered she didn’t read any books because she would have thought they meant English books and not the Japanese books she read daily. She also had a hard time finding Japanese books to read here (i used ILL for her) so rarely got a new book. I am speculating some of the numbers may be brought down by English-as-a-Second-Language speaker who have a problem finding books in their native language but read those they can find. They might not count those books when answering the question as ESL folks in English countries often learn that people are only interesting in their English activities and not their non-English ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “So using books (even ebooks) as a determinant for a country’s literacy or reading habits is shortsighted.”

      A very good point, and one I haven’t addressed in my posts on reading.

      I have previously discussed how there are a lot of competing “entertainment” forms now, including blogs and social media. I’d agree completely that the idea we’re reading less is probably wrong. We’re reading, just not books.

      Which I think is a failing in our discussion of reading and prose (particularly fiction). Books are not necessarily the be-all and -end-all, and the industry snootiness is distracting from that – myself included.

      “BTW, on that survey my mother would have answered she didn’t read any books because she would have thought they meant English books and not the Japanese books she read daily. ”

      That’s interesting. I wonder how many have a similar view of “books” being a very particular kind of book. In the post I used the example of comics, I’d hazard a guess that many wouldn’t regard them as books.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree that many wouldn’t consider comics or graphic novels good. I taught English Conversation in Japan for a bit when I was younger and I tried to use a comic book as reading material once — the vocabulary is not as easy as one thinks. A lot of action verbs and descriptive phrases that people had to look up so it was a great vocabulary builder. I was pretty surprised.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. In Japan, they take graphic comics much more seriously. I bought one translated into English which explains Economics in the graphic novel form. They do history and literature classics that way too. If you are a visual learner, it probably helps facts stick in your brain to have images associated with dates, events, facts or vocabulary.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’ve not gotten into Japanese books (comics or otherwise) as much as I’d like to. I made that comment after reading All You Need Is Kill (that was made into the Tom Cruise film Edge of Tomorrow). Such a great book, written by the author of the manga. I kinda feel like I’m missing out on something.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. It’s harder to get the English-translated nonfiction ones here, I think. The ones that make it over the water tend to be the fantasy ones geared for a younger audience, the popular ones. We actually have a history of nonfiction too. The Four Immigrants Manga by Henry (Yoshitaka) Kiyama was drawn between 1904-1924 but not published in English until 1999 by Schodt who translated it. The panels chronicles the real-life adventures of four Japanese in America at that time (Japanese could not become American citizens until 1952 although any children born in USA were automatic citizens so a very small percentage stayed. Most like Kiyama, eventually returned to Japan even if they had lived here for decades). Kiyama’s panels were exhibited in 1927 along with his other artwork at the Golden Gate Institute. Kiyama published the book in Japanese in 1931 by a San Francisco printer and took copies back to Japan. So originally his public was Japanese immigrants in America and Japanese people in Japan interested in the Japanese experience in America. I would say this 1931 was among the first American manga — there may be others in the Japanese American community that never was published into English and so remain unknown.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Interesting.

        There was an article on Australian crime fiction in The Conversation that suggested Aussie authors were battling to get recognition until the 70s and 80s because they were essentially beholden to UK publishers.

        It appears those two dominant markets (UK and US) really have dictated what we read for far too long.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I think the problem may be different now. A lot of the paper publishers are publishing less physical books these days–which if a book made it into the bookstore, people might pick up a new author due to the cover or just seeing them. Now with more ebooks and less physical presence in physical bookstores, people are relying on search engines — search engines put the most popular selling items at the top — harder to see a random new book. This is a problem for ebooks too. It effects new authors but also authors from places with less coverage. It effects libraries too. Locally (I live in a decent-sized USA city) I’ve noticed my library’s budget for physical books have gone down — there are less new books coming in and the ones they buy, they don’t buy as many copies. Library is another place where people discover new books through physical displays.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. I have a post coming on the recent attack on libraries in Forbes. It amazes me that US libraries are largely funded by land taxes, so richer areas have better libraries, poorer areas get underfunded libraries. We don’t do that here in Australia – although their budgets for books isn’t fantastic, as you noted for the US.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I find that as well.

      It often surprises me who will say this as much as anyone. I know several professionals who will – after seeing me reading at lunch – proudly announce that they haven’t read a book since high school, or university, or the like. Many say that they “don’t have the time to read”… but apparently plenty of time to kill interrupting my reading.

      And then on the other end of the spectrum, you’ll have people with nowhere near the same level of education as those professionals who will be listening to audiobooks on astrophysics while they work in the lab. Makes me appreciate how many assumptions I have made about readers.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I suppose it depends how we view education. Some view it as the means to a job, others view it as the means to obtain knowledge. The latter group tend to keep learning, the former tend to stop after getting a “good job”.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love that comic by Dav Pilkey. I’m a teacher myself, and so much of what I see in classrooms makes me cringe on the inside because it just doesn’t match what people who actually like to read do. For example, someone was recently telling me all about a unit of work where their Grade 6 students would all be reading the same book (Alice in Wonderland) together. The plan is to spend two sessions per week on the book, to ‘prepare the kids for high school’. In the first session, the teacher will read one chapter aloud, then the class will discuss it. In the second session, the students will re-read the chapter themselves, then complete comprehension and analysis questions. As she was telling me this, all I could think was ONE CHAPTER PER WEEK? Not only are all the students expected to read the same book, but the experience is going to drag out for weeks. If the kids like the book, the slow pace is going to be painful. If they don’t like the book, it’s going to feel never-ending. I’m not convinced that’s an approach that will teach the kids much – and I’m 100% sure it’s not an approach that will help develop a love of reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Slow pace indeed. Remember when the media were covering the release day of the last Harry Potter novel and there were kids who had finished it by that afternoon?

      I wouldn’t have said love is a smouldering fire being choked by its own smoke, but a roaring fire reaching to the sky. One chapter per week is the former, one book a day is the latter.

      Like

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