by Jane Whittingham
I’m about to say something that, as a librarian, might sound a bit heretical, but here goes…..
not everyone is destined to be a reader.
I’m not talking about literacy, of course – every individual has the right to become a literate, informed member of society. What I am talking about is recreational reading – the kind that’s not tied to school or work, but is pursued simply for the sake of enjoyment. It’s been said that reluctant readers are simply readers who haven’t found the right books yet. While this might be true in some instances, the reality is that some people do not enjoy reading and perhaps never will, and that is OK.
To see what I mean, let’s take a look at physical exercise. Reading is a form of exercise that gives your brain a healthy workout, so the comparison isn’t all that far-fetched. Some people take to exercise like a fish to water – it comes naturally to them and they derive great pleasure from it. Some exercise fans enjoy all forms of physical exertion, while others enjoy only specific sports or activities. Some couch potatoes are transformed into exercisers by the surprise discovery of an enjoyable activity. Other individuals dislike all forms of exercise but recognize that being active is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and endeavor to include physical activity in their lives, even if they don’t really enjoy it.
Still, there are always individuals who simply despise exercise in all its forms, and who will never, ever participate in physical activity. For whatever reason, they hate exercising, and no amount of cajoling, persuading or encouraging will change their minds. Is this the healthiest lifestyle to adopt? Probably not, but one of the great things about being a grownup is that you have the freedom to make your own choices, even if they might not be the healthiest options.
Readers come in similar varieties. Some people are voracious, omnivorous readers who devour books from all genres in rapid succession, deriving great pleasure from the experience. Other readers only enjoy specific genres, authors or styles – romance novel aficionados or murder mystery devotees, for example. There are readers who think they dislike reading, but who discover a hidden love for it, like young reluctant readers being inspired by nonfiction or graphic novels. Other people believe that reading is an important part of being informed, well-rounded individuals and try to include it in their lives, even if they don’t enjoy it all that much.
But there are, and always will be, individuals who simply do not enjoy reading. As a librarian and book nerd this has always been a bit baffling to me, but I will always respect the right of non-readers to be non-readers. This respect applies to children and teenagers as well as adults. Does it mean allowing young people to opt out of reading all together, simply because they don’t enjoy it? Not a chance! Growing up is all about doing things we don’t enjoy doing because they are good for us, like eating our greens, flossing between our teeth, and finishing our math homework. Just as we encourage children to exercise regularly in P.E. class because it’s part of a healthy lifestyle, we encourage them to read regularly in school and at home because we also believe it’s part of a healthy lifestyle.
If children have been introduced to a wide range of literary formats, styles, levels, themes and genres and still dislike reading, that’s OK. Trying to force young people to read recreationally against their will isn’t likely to turn them into reading devotees – if anything, it will likely just further entrench any negative feelings they might already have towards reading. Preferences change over time, and many a non-reader might one day turn into a reader if they are given enough time, space, options and gentle encouragement. But we are all unique, which means we all have different interests, preferences, and opinions. Being a non-reader shouldn’t mark an individual as being less informed, creative, educated or cultured than someone who reads – there are many ways to develop and grow as a person, and reading is just one of many activities that can help us become well-rounded members of society.
It can be challenging for passionate readers to understand why anyone wouldn’t enjoy reading, and it’s all too easy to make assumptions or judgments about people who don’t share our devotion to books. But just as we don’t all enjoy jogging, cooking or listening to country music, we don’t all enjoy reading, and that’s A-OK. Being a librarian means respecting and supporting the choices, decisions and opinions of our patrons, even if we don’t necessarily understand or agree with them.
Now, where did I put my running shoes?
Jane Whittingham is a Canadian librarian and blogger, based in Vancouver, British Columbia. You can find her online at raincitylibrarian.wordpress.com and on twitter as @raincityjane.
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