Thursday, May 7, 2009

People Who Don't Read

What is it with people who don’t read? Why are they so proud of themselves for never having picked up a book?

I was signing copies of my novels yesterday at an event in a suburb south of Chicago. As people passed by my booth, I’d ask if they enjoyed reading mysteries. A "yes" allowed me an opening to explain my series. A "no" often led to a discussion of the type of material they read, be it books, newspapers, or magazines.

I didn’t mind when a person said no, they enjoyed something other than mystery. It’s fine with me if other people enjoy romance or sci-fi or non-fiction books. What bothered me was the number of people who waved me off with "I don’t read" or "I’m don’t have time for books" or "I did enough reading in school".

It wasn’t just the words that aggravated me. It was the pride I heard in these people’s voices as they rejected the very notion of reading. These were BUSY people with BUSY lives and BETTER THINGS TO DO than WASTE TIME reading. Reading was dismissed as something fit only for school children and old people in rocking chairs.

I gritted my teeth and smiled the first few times these words were spoken. But I couldn’t keep my mouth shut when one woman pointed to her daughter and two grandchildren and said, "She has two kids. She has no time for books."

"Really?" I replied nastily. "I raised six kids and still found time to read."

What I didn’t add was, maybe that’s why all my kids have done well in life. They’ve learned that reading is not only enjoyable, but also makes them better educated and more informed citizens of this country.

I wonder how those two children will turn out with a mother who has no time for books.


  1. I'm gritting my teeth, too! People have become so short-sighted. Bravo for making a stand. Maybe your comment will get her to thinkin' at some point. Not reading is a tragedy.


  2. I've run into that a lot, too. When people proudly tell me they have no time to read, I say "shame on you!" I've also told them, "is that the kind of example you want your children to follow?"

  3. I had a TEACHER say to me once, as she saw the stack of books I had at the library, "Oh, I 'wish' I had time to read anything like that much." The quotes around WISH are mine, because it was also said in that tone of pride that she was too busy for much reading. A TEACHER.


  4. I do wish I had more time to read than I once had, but it's not with a sense of pride in being too busy. It's a lament that I don't have more time to read all the wonderful books out there on the market. There was a time when I could spend hours on end reading, and often did, reading several books per week. Now I am a single mother, two teenage boys, with sports for them, and other outside activities. My own personal life takes time as well. I work a full time job, and own my own company in my “spare” time. I also find time to write, mingled into that where I can get snatches of time, even in five-minute increments. And yet, with all of this going on, I still find…no, MAKE time to read.

    As for time to read with children, not only did (and do) I read while raising children, we read (and still do) a lot together. There wasn’t a day when they were younger that we didn’t read out loud to each other. Once the boys were old enough, they took over the reading out loud, which meant they could read while I washed dishes or did laundry, and we could all enjoy the story together. Now, with vastly differing schedules, that’s not possible as much as it once was, so the reading out loud to each other isn’t nearly as often as it once was. But they still often will read a book, then insist I read the same book so we can discuss it. I gladly oblige, thrilled to have raised two sons who love to read, beg to be taken to bookstores, and whose favorite gifts gor Christmas and birthdays are books or bookstore gift cards.

    Laura J

  5. I used to tell my son that the more he read, the more punchlines he would "get." Not only are you better educated, but you can enjoy more jokes! :) --Jeri Westerson (who always read and who always wrote)

  6. Reading certainly makes one better educated. It helps students learn how to find information, as well as just uncovering it in their reading. As a student, when faced with a grammatical dilemma, I went to my books to find an example of what I wanted to know so I could do it correctly. I became a Lit major in college, and taught high school English, so reading certainly segued into a career for me. I think the fault lies in our short-attention-span culture. People are not programmed to sit quietly for the time it takes to read and absorb a book or storyline. My favorite books are the ones that, along with the plot, entertain me with details (such as The Rune Stone Murders, where I am learning a little of Viking history and lore). Entertain me, and please, educate me. I'm only sixty--I have a lot of learning left to do!

  7. I feel that most people that don't "have time to read" which could be better put don't make time to read (because you know we all make time to do something), is because they have either
    a) not found that type of book that truly interests them (this search can be awhile for some that haven't had a lot of exposure to different types/genres
    b) did not have anyone that encouraged them to do so when younger or had some type of negative experience with it
    c) have some sort of preconceived idea about what being a "reader" is.

    I say to all ...exercising the mind --in any form is just as important, if not more than exercising the body.

    Health professionals will attest to this.

    My parents aren't readers and always wonder "Where I got it from"--lol. I do play Scrabble by email with them though --which I had to talk them into until one day I told them it was a great way for the mind to ward off Alzheimers (backed with facts of course).

    Thanks for the great subject Mary.

  8. When people tell me they are "too busy" to read I usually ask them what their favorite television shows are. I've NEVER had anyone who answered list less then four shows they watch regularly. When they are done telling me the merits of the various reality shows they watch, or ask me if I watch said shows, I reply that I'm too busy reading to watch television. That normally gains me something between outright scorn or a confused look such as one would give if I told them I just fell from the sky.

    But what really gets under my skin is when I have people say to me, "why read when you can watch the movie" or "if the book's good enough they'll make it into a movie".

  9. What gets me are the parents who pull the kids away from my booth, saying that they've got books they haven't read at home!

  10. My three year old son refuses to go to bed without a "tory" no matter how late it gets, and my five year old daughter and I have already read our way through most of the Little House series and are about to start on the Bobbsey Twins. Their pleasure in books accounts for at least some of the pleasure I get from them on a daily basis. As long as I'm telling a story, my kids will withstand nail clipping, hair unsnarling, and even splinter removal. And my daughter has already added her own voice to the world of stories in our house. The other day the mother she was narrating said, "Honey, what's WRONG? You're pale as a lima bean!"

    Some of this is surely temperament, but I can't imagine not exposing children to this profoundest of joys and making a place for it in even the busiest life.

    Next year I will be starting a Parent/Child Book Club in both our preschool and kindergarten just to put my money where my mouth is!

  11. How about when you're signing in a bookstore and someone says those magic words? What the heck are they doing in a bookstore then?!


  12. A few months ago, there was a lively discussion going on after one of Joe Konrath's blogs - I don't truly remember what the blg was about. I only recall a comment from one person who said he was a writer (might have said published) who hadn't read a book in 20 years and didn't see any reason to pick one up now.

    Explain that to me.

    Gayle Carline

  13. It looks like we're all more or less in the same place when it comes to reading. I have to qualify my blog remarks, though. I understand that a lot of people don't enjoy reading because they actually have difficulty doing it. Sometimes it's just how the brain is wired -- some people have difficulty deciphering words and sentences. I certainly didn't mean to put down people who have this kind of problem, and I wasn't talking about them.

    As for people who claim they hate to read because as children they were forced to read what they weren't interested in, I think that's just a bad excuse. I recall hating some of the books I had to read in high school, but that didn't stop me from reading the kind of novels I enjoyed. Today kids have Harry Potter, etc., and those kinds of books make reading fun for children.

    Laura's remarks prove that even the busiest of people -- and Laura certainly is busy being a single mom and business woman -- can find time to read if they want to. I had more time to read before I took up writing. I still read for a while every night before I go to sleep, and I cherish those evenings when I can curl up on the couch with a good book. But it's true that family activities can cut down one's free time.

    As so many of you pointed out, it's important -- and satisfying! -- to read to your children and encourage them to read on their own. Having a relaxing read with your kids is soothing to the nerves.

    Gayle, I can't believe a writer would admit to not reading! Frankly, I'm shocked. I wish you could put a name to that story. I'd love to know who said that!

  14. Readers are leaders. If you read you will get better jobs, do better in life, be happier and in general just be better off.

    If you think you have no time to read well there's always time when you go to the bathroom.

  15. I don't have time for a lot of TV shows because I have time to read and to write. I couldn't live without books. I have to drive a lot for work and always have an audiobook in the car.

    Reading IS fundamental - for life.

  16. You tell'em, Mary. It drives me crazy too. I've even been bold enough to ask, "CAN you read??" or "Do you know how??" I know it's hurtful, but that really pushes my buttons.