Thursday, June 14, 2007

I Can't Remember a Day without Books

My barber asked me this morning if I go everywhere with a book in my hand. She's been cutting my hair for several years now and she remarked that she doesn't recall a single time that I sat in her chair without first closing the book that I carried in with me. She's right; I don't recall a single time either.

That got me to thinking about the difference between avid readers and those who either don't read at all or who only read one of the giant bestsellers once or twice a year. What turned some of us into readers and left so many others unblessed with the inclination? Is it genetic? Are some us simply born that way and others not? It's kind of scary to think that something like a love of reading, something that has played such a large part in my life, was given to me through sheer, random chance. I have only one sibling, a non-reading brother, and I cringe to think that there was a 50-50 chance that I had missed out on the "reading gene" and that the little fellow instead had ended up in his DNA rather than in mine. Of course, he's probably just as happy being a non-reader as I am being a book nut since he has no way to know what he's missing. But still...

I'm coming to believe that it is near impossible to turn a person who is inclined to be a non-reader into an avid one. Yes, you might be able to move them along the reading scale in that direction, but I don't believe that they will ever turn into one of the book nuts like us. That spark is either there, waiting to flame up when it's ready, or it's not there at all and throwing all the gasoline in the world on it won't start a fire.

Am I wrong?

30 comments:

  1. No..I don't think you are wrong. My husband is a non-reader and I can't imagine anything that would "spark" him into reading. I mean, he's picked up a few of my books in the last 13 or 14 years I've known him, but even though he liked them, it didn't make him run out and get a library card!

    My brother is a reader. We share books all the time. But neither of our parents read much. I can bring home a sack of books and my dad will plow through them. But when they are gone....that's it. No trips to the library or bookstore. I can't even IMAGINE that.

    Great post!

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  2. It's an interesting question Sam. On one hand, I do think that it's possible to get nonreaders or infrequent readers interested in books if you catch them very early. So much of our personalities are shaped by our early experiences. Before I started school I loved books. However, after I started school and began reading the required reading selections, that love began to deteriorate because the stories we read in no way interested me. I began to associate all reading with those boring, uninteresting stories.

    Then one day, I discovered Beverly Cleary's Ramona series and never looked back. If I hadn't, who knows what kind of reader I would've become, which is why I say that for some people, it isn't that they don't like to read, it's just that they haven't read the right book yet - the book that seems in its own way to be written especially for them and reminds them that there's a lot of writing worthy of their attention.

    On the other hand, some people, simply because of the make-up of their personalities and interests will never be the book addicts we are. We all have our passions. For some, getting them to be as passionate about books is as useless as getting me to religiously follow the lives of celebrities. I don't get their passion and many of them probably don't get mine.

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  3. I believe we are all born curious and books are just one of the many ways to fulfill a person's curiosity.

    If one isn't learning (serious stuff) through books then they become a mere entertainment vehicle such as radio, tv, and movies. Only active readers truly develop a love for books and read both serious and fun with equal enjoyment. Plus, the serious/fun combo can be found in both fiction and non-fiction.

    Reading is not in the genes; however, we all have an inate courious nature. So, yes, I believe, with all my heart, that a non-reader can become not only a reader but a craver of books, once someone turns them on to them.

    I sound like a librarian, huh? :D

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  4. I'll be short and sweet. I agree with Maggie 100%. :) There only has to be a personal desire. Go, Librarian Maggie, Go!

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  5. Very interesting comments, guys...

    Stephanie, I've had similar experiences within my own family. My wife enjoys reading, but only if I do the legwork and make a library run for her to boot. Otherwise she is perfectly content to go months without reading a book. I've tried to interest my father in books by picking out ones that were perfect for him: WWII books and books on Cajun music and heritage, two subjects with which he is intimately familiar. But again, he's perfectly willing to read them (and it takes a long time) and then to put them aside with no desire to read others on the same subjects.

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  6. JS, I wonder, though, if you would have been able to ever generate that "spark" if it weren't already somewhere in your makeup just waiting for the right match to come along to start the fire. I can't remember any particular book or author that set me on my way; books have just always fascinated me because of what they contain and what a person can get from them. I can't remember ever not wanting to have them around me.

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  7. I don't know, and whilst it's interesting to ponder, I've given up. The same question could be asked of any poassionate puruit, I suppose.
    *****

    How many times have you bumped in to someone when walking along the pavement, having got off a train or bus and just "having to" finsh the page, chapter, whatever? :-)

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  8. Maggie, I absolutely love librarians for their optimism. They never let me down. I think what you said goes back to what I posted about being able to move someone in the right direction on the "reading scale" by exposing them to interesting books that appeal to them as individuals.

    I'm just not sure that you can create an avid, active reader unless the proper materials are already there inside the person, though. I just don't know.

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  9. Joy, it's that "personal desire" that may be the thing that a person has to be born with...if they don't have it, there's not much anyone can do to move them along.

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  10. Sally, it's a question that will probably never be answered, I agree. I believe that all of us would like to think that we can inspire future readers to reach the passionate reading level that we've developed over the years. If I knew how to do it, I'd be out there doing it every day, that's for sure.

    There's not a lot of public transportation in Houston, so I haven't bumped into anyone while reading lately. But I did miss my stop in the London underground on more than one occasion because I got lost in a book. That cost me an hour of backtracking several times while I worked there. :-)

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  11. I don't remember not reading books. It's something I've "always" done, and I've always loved bookstores, too. I do remember I became a more obsessed reader once I was old enough to pick out my own books rather than reading just what my parents bought me. Both of my parents read, but I don't really have any friends (offline) that do. They look like at me like I'm crazy sometimes.

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  12. Neither of my parents were readers and my brother wasn't until he got interested in some fantasy series sometime in his 30s. But my aunt was a bookworm and she passed her juvenillia to me. She had a terrific collection. I always loved books. Can't remember when I couldn't read, it came so easily in school (unlike math).

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  13. Like you bringing a book to the barber's, I carry one with me everywhere too. I can never understand when people complain about long waiting times at the hospital or other such places, I just think, "Great, a perfect chance to read."

    As someone seemed to imply here, I think there's a book out there for everyone. The problem is often a wall put up to the whole idea of reading. How many adults have I heard making jokes almost like boasts that they don't go anywhere near books?

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  14. I think the main thing that makes a kid turn into a reader or not is not genes but being read to, being surrounded by books growing up, living in a house with other readers, etc.

    I think some kids can turn out not to be readers with those things (say if they suffer from dyslexia, making reading uncomfortable for them) and I think some kids can turn into readers in a vacuum, but I think those things are rare.

    As far as spouses not being readers, how????? I can not imagine being married to a non-reader! I don't even have any close friends who aren't readers! It's not like I find out someone isn't a reader and reject them as a friend. It just turned out that way. Maybe non-readers can't bear listening to me babble about books all the time?

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  15. Annie, it amazes me how few "reading" friends I have, so I know just how you feel. I just can't imagine a life that doesn't feature a whole lot of book time.

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  16. Is your brother still an avid reader today, bybee? That makes me wonder again if the innate spark was always there and that fantasy series started his reading fire...or if a person really can be influenced to become a reader.

    I don't think that I'm any closer to deciding which it is, and I doubt that I'll ever get there.

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  17. John, same here. I recently spent a day sitting in a hospital family waiting room and managed to read chunks of three different books while sitting there. I thought it was a great opportunity...and was amazed at the number of people watching the same news over and over on the room's television set. Other were yacking away on cell phones or staring into space. What a waste of all that forced free time.

    I, too, have heard a few people bragging that they never read a book. Why they think I will be impressed by that kind of statement is way beyond me.

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  18. Dewey, the theory of reading to young children and the effect that it has on them is questioned in Freakonomics. I mentioned it in my review of the book, in fact. I want to agree with your theory rather than that author's, of course, so I hope that you are right.

    Wow...all your friends are readers. That's an amazing streak of good luck. I can't even imagine trying to have a "bookish" conversation with most of my friends. They "allow" me my reading habits but they really don't understand why I would want to read so much and they think I'm weird because I can't discuss any popular television program with them because I've never seen them. Whole TV series have come and gone and all I know about them is their names. That freaks out my friends. :-)

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  19. That was one of a few things I disagreed with in Freakonomics, though overall it was a unique and entertaining look at the world, and I enjoyed it.

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  20. That's the one theory of his with which I had the most trouble myself. I just don't want to believe it.

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  21. Dewey said that one thing might be growing up surrounded by books and readers. That doesn't explain me. Sure, my parents had books, but I can't for the life of me remember a single memory of them actually sitting there reading one. I think I read more off their shelves than they did!

    Personally, I think the more you want to escape from where you're at, the more you read.

    ...and I read a lot. In fact, one of my favourite times to read is when I have to walk somewhere. Grab a book, and I get about thirty pages done for a thirty minute walk plus exercise to boot. When you live in a city as ugly as I do, that's a great way to walk. Bummer if it's raining though.

    Does anyone else do the Arukiyomi thing i.e. walk and read?

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  22. I don't think that we'll ever really know what creates a reader from scratch. Your explanation of what turned you into a reader certainly makes sense to me. That's also part of what did it for me because I grew up in a very small Gulf Coast Texas town that didn't offer a lot in the way of entertainment other than local sports. I played a lot of baseball but found that I needed something more than that to keep me going...turning to books to show me the rest of the world. That, in turn, made me into the Anglophile that I am today, even further changing my life and leading me to seek a job that would let me spend a substantial part of my working life in and around the U.K.

    As for "walking and reading," well let's just say that I would survive for about five minutes in Houston if I tried that. Bicycles and pedestrians are fair game in this city.

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  23. I think I agree with you that it's near impossible to turn a non-reader into an avid one, especially if they're an adult. Like Stephanie, my husband is a non-reader and will occasionally pick up a book. He always enjoys the experience so much and says he wants to read more, but then it just doesn't happen. And I feel 'on edge' if I don't read every single day.

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  24. I'm the same way, Camille. We're a strange lot...

    I feel cheated if I don't read about 100 pages a day of something...anything will do in a crisis. :-)

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  25. I have two children, both boys, not far apart in age. They were of course raised in the same house under similar circumstances, and I read them the same books as young children. Yet one is a reader and one is not. In fact, the non-reader will often loudly proclaim "I HATE to read" in order to distinguish himself from his older brother. I think you are on to something with your idea about the reading DNA.

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  26. That's the same thing that happened with our two girls, Becky. In our case, it's the younger one who turned out to be a reader. And we probably read more to the oldest daughter when she was young than we did to her sister at the same age...all the signs point to DNA but I hate to think that's the real determining factor.

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  27. as far as being read to as a child, my sister and I were both read to an equal amount, and we also had a deal where if we wanted to buy a book with our allowance money, my parents would pay for half of it. When she was little, I remember her reading a lot (there was a pony series that she really liked), but she seemed to go out of it. I, on the other hand, have always devoured books. My family used to joke that the only places I knew how to get to were the library and the bookstores (I have a terrible sense of direction).

    Some of my friends are readers, some aren't. I don't know if I could marry someone who wasn't a reader, but my ex wasn't a reader, and that always kind of bothered me.

    I think the difference between avid readers and everyone else is something I've often noticed in conversations about books. An acquaintance or friend will say, "I wish I had time to read more." And I always say, "I make the time." That's what it boils down to, really.

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  28. Eva, maybe that "desire" is something that a person is born with, a matter of taste that places books and reading above vegging out in front of a TV set or video game console. I'm starting to believe from all of these personal observations that a reader is more "born" than "made" and that reading to a born reader at an early age might turn up his reading enthusiasm a notch or two but that it will do little good in the long run for those born without the spark.

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  29. I started my own blog because I feel lonely: in my entire life, I have only had three friends that I could discuss books with. Ever. I'm 30.

    I, too, rarely go anywhere without a book. I have, at times, even kept a book in the car, just in case. I don't understand what people who don't read do with their time. And I too have never understood people who say they "don't have time to read." What are they doing with their time, I wonder?

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  30. Diva, I think that book blogs have created a wonderful community of like-minded folks from around the world. So much great conversation...

    You're right about making time for reading. It just doesn't seem to be that difficult once a habit is established. I think that most people would be surprised by how much time they blow away on mindless things like vegging out in front of a TV set every night.

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