As long as I can remember, my dad hasn’t been a reader. He could spend hours watching TV, listening to the radio, or doing yard work, but even 15 minutes of magazine reading would have him snoring in his La-Z-boy. We often argued about my love of reading, which he variously considered unnatural, obsessive, harmful, or weird. However, after about a decade of gentle persuasion and persistently mailing him books, I’ve finally turned my dad into a reader! He has favorite authors and series. He asks for books for Christmas. He can read a thick paperback in only a few days. We exchange books. It’s magical.
If your father is also a reluctant reader and you’d like to help him discover the joys therein, try these four simple steps. They take dedication, commitment, and a good deal of thought, but they’re absolutely worth it.
- Start him off with coffee table books about his favorite hobbies, obsessions, etc.
For my dad, that meant fast vehicles and baseball. A couple weeks before his birthday or Father’s Day, I would go to Barnes & Noble (or Borders, when it was still around) and search the bargain section. The closer I could align a book to his interests – finding one about Yankee Stadium instead of just baseball and classic Corvettes instead of just cars – the more likely I was to pique his interest. Coffee table books were the perfect starter books because they’re not especially text heavy and have vivid, beautiful pictures that make you want to revisit them over and over again.
- Pair books with non-book items.For every book I’ve sent my dad over the years, I’ve also sent him at least two other items, usually a picture and food. Pair that Corvette coffee table book with a sleek metal sign from Bed, Bath, & Beyond, Michaels, or Target featuring a powder blue 1973 Corvette. Put a baseball hat or novelty bat from your local team with that book on the history of Yankee Stadium. Throw his favorite snack in with that paperback. When people are reluctant readers, it’s good to give them something else they already like or need with a book. That way, they’re never disappointed.
- Purchase books with nostalgia value.One of my dad’s favorite radio programs was Earl Pitts, a politically incorrect redneck who does a 2 minute segment every morning about what he doesn’t like about modern America or how people piss him off. My dad would wake us up every morning to hear the bugle call and opening, “You know what makes me sick?” So one year when I was coming up blank on a birthday present, I did a quick Google search to see if there were any books, CDs, etc. about good old Earl Pitts. There were, so I sent them over. My dad called me early in the morning on his birthday, gushing about how he’d already listened to the CD three times and was halfway through the book. He was delighted that I’d remembered something from my childhood and that I’d taken the time to find something he genuinely liked. Other options are buying him a book you read together when you were younger (or bookish paraphernalia, if that doesn’t work), finding a book he always talked about but could never find, or, if he doesn’t use online shopping, buying him a book that he can only find online. As we all know, it’s the thought that counts, and nostalgia books are heavy in thought.
- Be aggressive in your bookish gift giving.When my dad expressed a vague interest in Craig Johnson’s Longmire series after seeing the TV show, I immediately went out and bought the whole series. Since then, I’ve parceled it out to him over the last couple years. I did the same when we bonded over William Least Heat-Moon’s travelogues. If you think your dad is likely to actually buy the books on his own, this might not be the best strategy, but you can still look up readers’ advisory lists or similar authors and series and encourage his interest. If you’re enthusiast and stay on top of buying and recommending books, it’s easier for a reluctant reader to become enthusiastic too.
Final word of advice: listen to your dad. If he says he doesn’t like something, don’t continue buying it for him. If he likes something that you don’t (see: Earl Pitts), buy it for him anyway. Giving presents and helping establish a reading relationship is all about what the other person wants and needs. Foisting your reading standards onto another person is a sure-fire way to make them even more reluctant. And, as we all know, reading is a gift. It broadens our horizons, connects us to new communities, strengthens our brains, and provides free therapy. Shouldn’t we do whatever we can to extend that gift to our dads?
So what about you, Rioters? Got any tips to add? Stories about reading with your dad? Share them in the comments below!