Why I Don’t Like to Read
If you asked me what I used to read as a child, I could easily recite for you a list of books and authors that filled the hours of my adolescence. K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series allowed me to experience the senses of animals and alien creatures. R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books kept me up late into the night, and even later in to the night when I couldn’t fall asleep. Roald Dahl’s novels invited me to an unbelievable world of exciting places and characters. If you ask me what I liked to do when I was ten, my answer would have always been the same thing: I liked to read.
Today, I can definitively tell you that reading is not at the top of my list of priorities. Though I am ashamed to admit it, I see reading as an activity that is generally reserved for homework assignments and graphic-heavy magazine articles. So what book am I reading in my spare time? I’ll tell you that I’m currently sifting my way through Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’m lying. I started the novel over two weeks ago. I am on page 130. It’s a 590-page book. And honestly, the reason I started reading it was to see how it compared to David Fincher’s cinematic adaptation I had seen the week before.
But I digress. Regardless of whether or not today’s influx of novels and trilogies grip your imagination, the reason I have not picked up an unassigned book is simple and embarrassing: I do not know how to find a book that would interest me.
My dilemma is as simple as it sounds. Despite the overwhelming number of bestseller lists out in the world, I find it difficult to narrow down the masses of books out there to a single choice. Allow me to take you through the timeline that is my experience of walking into an actual brick-and-mortar bookstore. As a middle-schooler, I would make a beeline for one of two different sections: young adult or science-fiction/fantasy. Back then, the choice was simple. The young adult shelves provided me with novels or series that I knew would grab my interest. Many books, like Jerry Spinelli’s Jason and Marceline, would discuss the tribulations of pubescent male youths just like me who just wanted to be popular and get the girl. Others, like Lois Lowry’s The Giver, would offer valuable parables set in a relatable context. And as my literary tastes began to take shape, I found myself reciting Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics and blazing through Goodkind’s enormous behemoths. But now, though I occasionally revisit those tales, I have left those interests behind in pursuit of new stimulation. However, once I walk pass Thriller Avenue and Poetry Way, I have discovered that I am a tiny fish in the infinite ocean that is the genre known as “fiction and literature.” And though I once was able to walk directly to the sections in which I was familiar, my trips to my local Barnes and Noble now inevitably end with my standing in front of these shelves and not knowing where to start.
But hey, this isn’t my first time at a bookstore, surely I can find something that will pique my fancy. As a liberal arts student, I am undoubtedly drawn to names in the literature section that many people would have heard in passing or perhaps in their high school English class. Hemingway. Fitzgerald. Dostoevsky. These are all names that have an important place in literature. And sure enough, these are all authors that can be found in almost any English department survey course around the country. But are the works from these individuals the flame that today’s college freshmen and sophomore moths will fly towards? Doubtful. If J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is the novel of the rebellious teenage generation, where is the work that captures the age of the undecided twenty-something? Instead, trying to find a book that I know will catch my attention is just as difficult as figuring out one’s major or eventual career. I’m not saying that picking a book is as important as figuring out one’s life path, just that the decision can seem daunting when one does not know where to start. And sure, genres like “Mystery” and “Romance” can certainly serve as more than adequate reading, but they cater to a niche audience that already knows what it is going to get from those types of books.
The number of young professionals that voluntarily pick up a book is dwindling. And it is the responsibility of those who provide us with reading material to steer its product to the right demographic. The book-reading consumer, much like the television watcher, must be educated to know what it is looking to buy and experience. While breakout series’ like the Hunger Games and Twilight inevitably find their audiences, other novels may be left untouched without ever being pointed to the right readers. When the subject of reading comes up in conversation with friends, the reaction is always the same: rolling eyes followed by a quick quip about how they hate reading. But I believe that this so-called hate stems not from a lack of enjoyment of the physical act of reading, but from the result of my friends not reading books that will inspire and excite them. But the process of finding those stimulating works has to be easier than grabbing a book at random from the fiction and literature shelf and hoping that it will entertain and delight you. Otherwise, we’ll just go watch the movie adaptation first. And then maybe, just maybe, we’ll decide to halfheartedly see why everyone was making such a fuss over the book.
Author’s Note: William Yu does in fact enjoy reading. He just doesn’t do it enough.