The Reading Problem

June 9th, 2008 · 11 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Sometimes I think that everyone’s worried about the future of books, but nobody’s doing anything about it*. More precisely, I think the people who hand-wring the most are the same people who forget why people read in the first place. These are the folks who place books on ivory pedestals and disdain anyone who reads the “wrong” thing.

It’s time we make books seem like chocolate rather than broccoli.

Reading, by some, is treated like a solemn communion, a sacred ritual, something done — done right, anyway — by the few who cherish delicate jewels of books. They read with a certain grim smugness, completely forgetting that reading, as Kevin Smokler said at Book Expo America 2008, “is an act of hedonistic joy.”

He then went on to ask, not rhetorically, “Why are we so terrified of calling reading fun?”

Yes, indeed: very few people pick up a book for work. Reading is a leisure activity, a pleasure, a joy. It is something done to entertain — yes, Virginia, books are part of the entertainment industry, and if you don’t believe and accept, you will find yourself marginalized by other forms of entertainment.

Lately we have been expanding on our “smell of books” theory (most of you know that BS HQ has a laboratory where we do vital book-related experiments). We noted a thread of thought that suggests some books smell better than others. Further investigation leads us to discover a tribe that believes there are “real” books and all other books.

People, stop thinking this way! Reading is supposed to be fun. So many of us see reading as an imperative. “I have to read this.” Or a failing. “I should be reading this.” Or as a character flaw. “I feel guilty about reading this.” To (again) quote Kevin Smokler, it’s time we make books seem like chocolate rather than broccoli.

Each reader brings a different set of challenges to the book. Some people have the luxury of uninterrupted time to devote to reading. Some — likely the vast majority of people — find their reading time subject to myriad distractions: kids, pets, friends, life, jobs. Rather than judging the type of book another person reads, why not celebrate the reading?

Last month, I read Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier with enthusiasm (except for my annoyance at the overdone footnotes). I read Lani Diane Rich’s A Little Ray of Sunshine with equal enthusiasm. Both were books that I picked up and read at every spare moment (last month being particularly bereft of spare moments). Both books transported me out of my home, into different worlds. Both books lingered in my mind after the last paragraph. Both books lead to high recommendations to like-minded friends.

Both books smelled the same.

Kids today are reading, though being kids today, they are like kids of yesterday and kids over the ages, with a twist. Now more than ever, I believe, reading is treated like harsh task rather than simple pleasure. Reading is the only form of entertainment that kids equate with homework. It is amazing that today’s youth read for pleasure at all…and if it’s Harry Potter that they’re reading, well, those of you who love reading should be thrilled that a story managed to compel a teenager to read for the sheer joy of reading.

The horizons of real readers expand and contract as life expands and contracts. Reading is fun, other readers know this. Do not judge the reader on the beach by the cover of his book. No, celebrate the fact that you and this stranger are sharing one of life’s greatest pleasures.

And if you’re not having fun with the book you’re reading, put it down and find a story that gives you pure joy. Life’s to short for guilty reading.

* – Yes, an exaggeration

File Under: Square Pegs

11 responses so far ↓

  • carol stanley // Jun 9, 2008 at 9:22 am

    It would be a sad day without bookstores, libraries ….Browsing thru a bookstore is one of the pleasures in life…I think books are going to be here for a long time..unless we run out of paper.

  • Kimber // Jun 9, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Chocolate indeed!

    And even better, I can have as many books as I want and never gain weight. 🙂

  • cuileann // Jun 9, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    Great post. Book snobbery can be an oppressive tyrant.

  • Heather S. Ingemar // Jun 10, 2008 at 7:59 am


  • Karina Mikhli // Jun 10, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Thanks for stating the obvious. I’ve argued the same with friends and others over the years and am a firm believer that reading is all about enjoyment. Since I don’t have that much time to read, if a book doesn’t grab me by page 30, I move on. And my husband and I have encouraged our seven-year-old son to read…whatever he chooses (within reason), as long as he reads.

    Here’s to a long life filled with books…and chocolates :).

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  • Gail Dayton // Jun 13, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    Why is it so hard to get this idea across to people? READING SHOULD BE FUN!!! Why worry about What people are reading? Just let them read.

    I’ve talked to both teachers and moms who say this Accelerated Reader program has turned so many kids off reading and made it into a chore, rather than a pleasure.

    That said, all of my kids (and my son-in-law) read for pleasure. My older son didn’t until he was working full-time, but got to where he had a book going all the time. (When they come for holidays, they work their way–often in succession–through my keeper shelves.) Now he’s going back to college to get his teaching degree–in coaching, yes, but also in English. So showing your kids that You value reading and enjoy reading is one of the best things you can do to create young readers.

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  • Kassia Krozser // Jun 14, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Gail — just wanted to say that, knowing your reading habits, you done good!

  • Ami // Jun 16, 2008 at 8:48 am

    I completely agree with you, Kassia! Folks view reading as a self-betterment activity rather than a joy, which leads them to do ridiculous things like bring a copy of Moby Dick to the beach because they want their summer read to be of value. And then, naturally, they hate it, which can lead to deciding that reading is not for them, at least until the next summer when War and Peace gets tossed (with a thud) into the beach bag.

    Call me Pollyanna, but I do think that things will begin to loosen up a bit once e-readers really catch on and people can begin to sample new authors without the $25-and-up price tag.

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