Reading a Book Equals Getting Kicked in the Groin

My (sad) quote of the day comes from LifeHacker:

"What the hell, you got a room in your house just filled with books? That’s stupid,"
was one of the many memorable quotes from my first semester teaching in
a school filled with at-risk and impoverished kids. Right now you’re
reading a productivity and technology blog. You’re no stranger to
literacy and you read for enjoyment. All day every day you process
thousands upon thousands of words to make meaning of and enrich your
world. As an educator both at the high school and collegiate level, I’m
confronted again and again with children and adults who are only
semi-literate nearly drowning in a world they can’t process the way you
and I can. Somehow, every year I find myself with hundreds of students
that regard reading a book the same way they regard getting kicked in
the groin. If a student makes it out of their formal schooling only
semi-literate, their passage into adulthood is painfully crippled. All
the social programs in the world won’t be able to stabilize that
person’s life as much as the confidence that being a competent and
literate adult would.

BTW, this quote comes from a LifeHacker post dedicated to Blog Action Day’s theme of poverty.  Their take is to attack poverty with literacy.  They mention programs like Reading is Fundamental and Family of Readers.

I’ve always been interested by the whole read/don’t read divide.  When I was in college I constantly had guys say things to me like, "I can’t believe you read for fun" and look at me like I was some kind of subversive.  While I was in school I came to Winston-Salem to visit some family and my cousin set me up on a date with his girlfriend’s friend.  When we showed up at her house to pick her up I was introduced to her dad and I noticed that he’d just put down Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October.  I mentioned that I’d just finished reading it and really enjoyed it.  The dad’s mouth hit the floor and he was actually nice to me from that point on, but I think his daughter was unimpressed and thought I had to be the biggest dork she’d ever met.

As an adult I’ve often been bemused by people who visit our house and notice all the books we have lying around and whose eyes just kind of bug out.  On the flip side when we visit other people’s homes and I don’t see any books I wonder if they just don’t keep them or if they don’t read at all. Now these aren’t people who are illiterate by any stretch of the imagination, and in fact I’ve yet to meet a family that doesn’t have magazines lying around.  Books are another story all together, though, and I wonder if it’s the time it takes to read a book or simply the fact that they find books unappealing that causes them to not read them.

When I was a kid I read all kinds of crap like the Hardy Boys.  One time I overheard one of my Mom’s friends ask her why she let me read "trash" and she said that she’d rather have me read "trash" and enjoy it, than force me to read "good" books and dread it.  She was right, of course, and I wonder if more people would read books if they were allowed to read what they like as a child and not forced to read "good" books.  Heck, I’ve had adults say to me that they didn’t realize there were "fun" books out there until they got to be an adult and stumbled across a "fun" book in the airport while waiting for a flight.

You might wonder why reading books is important.  It’s important because all of us need to know how to communicate effectively with people and reading books better enables us to do that.  When you’re reading you’re practicing the formulation of ideas and the ways to organize and communicate those ideas.  Without realizing it you become expert at understanding the importance of context and the importance of giving people the information they need in the order that makes it easiest for them to understand.  In short, reading books literally helps you to function more effectively in our information-intensive society.

So the next time someone says, "I only read romance novels" congratulate them and encourage them to read another.  War and Peace ain’t for everyone and as long as they’re reading something they’re a step ahead of most.

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