Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Reading is Fun

Bookseller Chick has a great entry talking about how culturally we have lower expectations when it comes to boys and reading. While I don't want to write a treatise on gender expectations, it got me thinking. I have a sister who is close in age to me and a brother who is quite a bit younger. When my sister and I were little, my mother didn't work. My mother had all sorts of things that were relatively inexpensive to entertain us - going to museums (free in DC), the zoo, and the library. She also read to us many nights while we ate dinner. So reading was something I experienced as fun, long before I reached school where reading was assigned.

This is not to say that I think there isn't value in reading something as a class, in looking for patterns and hidden meanings. There is. But I wonder if you first big exposure to reading occurs in this type of format, if you wouldn't view reading as something you get through, much like homework. I like to learn knew things all the time, and yet, since leaving school I have never once whipped out a math problem for fun. (This is not to say that I don't use math, because of course I do, this is to say, I do not create fun for myself with math).

This weekend as I was driving back from a youth event with three teens in my car, the subject of summer reading came up. As they discussed their progress (or lack thereof), I asked what they had to read. One of the books was by Hemingway. I myself had to read A Farewell to Arms for school. And I didn't like it. When I shared this there was a moment of silence (now we were all tired so I may be over dramatizing a bit here). But I think they were surprised to hear an adult admit to not liking Hemingway. And here's the thing - I don't have to like Hemingway. Reading (and writing for that matter) is - as with all art - subjective. My taste is nothing for me to worry about or apologize for. I read plenty. Shakespeare was in it's day the equivalent of a soap opera. That doesn't mean it isn't wonderfully constructed, but it is mostly the fact that we don't talk like that anymore that leads people to believe it is high art now. Who knows what works today will be the ones that several hundred years from now school children will be dissecting.

My point is that, going back to what Nick Hornby talked about, and Tess Gerritsen blogged about, reading is the point. Within a school setting, we read the same things to facilitate group discussions. It is okay to not like the things they ask you to read. You can still learn about foreshadowing and plot progression in a book you didn't enjoy. But, I wonder if by not allowing people to understand that it's okay not to like what they are reading, that they then think that reading must not be for them.

I mentioned before that my brother was younger. When he joined us, my mother had started working as a teacher. She took a partial semester off and then returned to work. My brother spent a big part of his day with a babysitter. As far as I know, none of the babysitters read to him. My mother got home, went to the grocery store, cooked dinner (she insisted), and then pretty quickly was asleep. I know he did get read to sometimes, but probably not with the frequency that my sister and I had. He is still in college, so we will see what happens when so much of his reading is not assigned. But I wonder.

I say this not to blame my parents - or anyone's parents for that matter. But my sister and I both read for fun. I worry a bit that we are teaching people to think of reading as work, instead of fun.