Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Why People Hate to Read

My brother hates to read. He has a fantastic reason: "Reading transports me. And I usually like where I am." I should confess that he is likely the happiest person I know -- disgustingly, naturally happy.

I find his point hard to argue with.

My 13-year-old daughter doesn't hate all books, just the vast majority. Her reason is this: "I don't really like people so I don't usually like characters either."

Well, okay. I think I can kind of work with this one, especially as she gets older. Read novels with characters you're supposed to hate. Still, it's tricky. Like more people?

A friend of mine says that he hates reading historical fiction because it's too much responsibility to suss out what's historical and what's fiction. He's afraid he'll talk about the book and find himself passing off fiction as fact. He can't handle the pressure.

I've asked a lot of people why they think they don't like poetry. It's usually some variation on "Oh, I'm not smart enough to get it."

Let's face it. We can teach people to read, but we can't make them readers -- and certainly not lovers of all genres.

Most writers are readers. They were snagged at an early age. Wasn't E.L. Doctorow who said something like: A writer is a reader inspired to emulation?

I'm not, however. Although I'm often inspired to emulate, I'm a writer first. In the pre-writer era, I'd have been one of the cavemen worrying over my dirt scribbles. It feels deeply encoded into my genes.

At a recent author gig, I found myself saying, "I don't remember when I last read for pleasure."
I've been reading my students' work for work, other writers for blurbs, research for my own books, and, mainly, I've been reading to see other people's architecture, blueprints, to see how it's done. I've been taking books apart instead of reading them -- the way you give a young engineer a clock, he'll just open it up and mess with all the inner mechanisms.

Around the same time as the author gig, I lent a book to a friend. She said that she now knew why I read so slowly. "You write all over the inside of pages."

"Sorry about that."

She reminded me that if I didn't feel the need to converse with the text, I'd likely go faster.
So true, but easier said than done. I jot and dog-ear and underline. I can't do library books.

I don't know how to fix my own reading problem. It is a professional pit fall. It's impossible to watch films with a director or the show ER with a doctor or any courtroom drama with my father, a lawyer.

But I am still susceptible. There are moments -- small, brief, intense moments -- when the book as object disappears and the voice-over narration in my head goes away and some writer makes a world that replaces my own and, within that world, there is a new way of seeing something -- maybe something very small, maybe as small as a crease in a sheet of wax paper. And there is a rush -- pleasure. I can still be caught off-guard.

And ... let me just mention a few books -- that I've read or am reading -- some BRAND new -- and one classic -- that head-locked me into reading for pleasure ...

Antonya Nelson's new collection -- pub date was yesterday: Nothing Right. Startling, gorgeous.

Danit Brown's debut collection -- Ask for a Convertible. High hilarity.

Noir debut with great literary twists -- Pyres. Derek Nikitas. Dark.

Poetry. Frank Giampietro's Begin Anywhere. Oh how do we survive the wilds of suburbia. And just got Barbara Hamby's All-Night Lingo Tango. Don't miss it.

The literary classic Stoner, which isn't about getting stoned in either sense of the word.

Keep an eye out for Emily Franklin's food memoir about cooking with kids -- very funny.
Keep an eye out for Sheila Curran's second novel Everyone She Loved -- seriously good.
Keep an eye out for the next David Sedaris ... Dave Dickerson and his debut memoir.

And there are ones that I will kick myself for not mentioning. This is just a short, quick list.

But it seems right to pass them along -- writer to writer, reader to reader -- in an attempt to boost pleasure in a world where we need more of such a thing.

Julianna Baggott is the author of four adult novels, three books of poems, and MY HUSBAND'S SWEETHEARTS, under the pen name Bridget Asher. She also writes for younger readers under the pen name N.E. Bode, namely The Anybodies trilogy. Her new novel for younger readers is THE PRINCE OF FENWAY PARK, coming out in March. Her new novel for adults THE PRETEND WIFE comes out this summer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Real Simple, Glamour, Ms., Best American Poetry, Poetry, American Poetry Review, and read on NPR's Talk of the Nation. She teaches at Florida State University's Creative Writing Program.


Essay said...

I love to read but I love writing better than reading. With writing, I can express myself while with reading, I will learn more. But sometimes, I get bored in reading textbooks and even novels. I'd rather write endless research papers assignments that read thick textbooks.

D.M. McGowan said...

Each of those reasons are - to me - a better reason to read than to not read. Use info in the historical fiction to find more historical fiction or facts so you know which is fiction and which is fact.
Having said that, reading without pleasure is not a good thing.
Writing without pleasure upsets the proper order of things.
It should be possible to make some pleasure from any activity. When I'm forced away from my writing to do some dastardly thing like a living I take solace in knowing that I will have to do some things I enjoy ... like writing or reading.

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Anonymous said...

great post.
I hate to read because it makes me anxious about everything I'm not reading or haven't read.
I've been reading to catch up, to understand the world more quickly. If I take a breath and let the anxiety I can become engaged with a text.

Like you I circle, underline, comment, sketch little diagrams. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one : )
Bite, chew, swallow, digest.

I just started reading in ernest last year and have really enjoyed worlds that have been opened up to me through books.

Again, thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

sorry, "...let the anxiety pass..."