Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Books are not Vegetables

I read two interesting and seemingly unrelated articles. One was a link to discussion about how we have developed a great system for identifying and nurturing athletes, and yet do not have corresponding type things for writers (or artists, mathematicians and so on).  The other was about how after high school/college, a huge number of people never buy another book.  (Yes, it's less than half, I still think that's huge.)  Now, admittedly, the link states that book can be fiction or non-fiction, short stories, poetry or prose, but still that's a lot of people who are using something other than books to fill their leisure time (assuming they have some).  Now, as far as I can tell, that book reading doesn't count reading newspapers, journals and magazines or even reading up on the internet (seriously, can't you just get lost in a rabbit hole of Wikipedia?  Just me?).  And while I appreciate that these things are not books, the point I'm making, is that these people may not have given up on reading (beyond shampoo bottles and cereal boxes) they may just have given up on books.  And a lot of people seem to feel that books, much like dissecting worms*, are things that most of us don't have to do anymore once we finish school. 
One of the things that always annoyed me was that summer reading always had a boring list.  (I tell the high schoolers today they are so lucky, I don't think my list ever had anything written after 1950. Some of them are reading Scott Westerfeld.) I read more than the required number of books each summer, they just weren't all on that list.  And if the point is to keep kids engaged with reading as something potentially wonderful, wouldn't letting them choose five books be fine?  Or let them choose three of them all by themselves.  Or something. 
I once saw a nutritionist talk about how telling kids to eat their vegetables to get their dessert teaches them that dessert is good and vegetables are good for you (aka boring).  And I think we do that with books.  We turn them into boring, laborious, things and if you think those assigned books are a representative sample, well, who could be blamed if you turn to TV or the internet or video games? Imagine if you didn't know about TV and then you got one but the only channel it got was CSPAN.  You'd think TV, while occasionally interesting, was ultimately a really dull format. (Maybe not dull, but not, you know, exciting much,)
And then we get to the second part of the issue.  Most people agree that there are books that are not vegetable like, but those are all bubble gum.  Yes, genre fiction, it's out there and some people read it, but unlike those very serious, often depressing book club type** books, or those very enlightening, remind you of a text book they are so heavy, non-fiction books*** that are the vegetables and possibly fiber for your brain, these are terrible and will rot your brain.  No, don't read romance, or if you do, don't read sci-fi, or, eek, if you are out of college for sure don't be reading kids books (unless reading them to a kid).  And well, mysteries, some of those are probably okay, but only the ones with dark covers, the rest are bubble gum too. 
And you know what, that's why people don't read. The books they enjoy they are told are bad for them and the ones they don't like, or slog through, those are supposed to be the good ones.  Now, this is not to say, that you shouldn't try all kinds of books.  I am in favor of that.  And this is also not to say that I hated every book I had to read for school, I didn't.  But every time I hit one that made me think - wow, this is considered the good stuff - I had a broad base of other things that I knew were out there that were good. 
Much like people that lament that all TV is bad for you, or that there's never anything good on TV, there are tons of books out there.  (And okay, that may be the third issue - there are tons of books out there.)  Try one.  I swear it won't kill you.

*Unless your current life includes dissecting worms. 
*Your book club may be cooler.  Yay for you.
**Yes, I know, there are awesomely written non-fiction books to.  Not talking about those.