This is a guest post from Abby Hargreaves. Abby is a New Hampshire native living and working as a Children’s Librarian in Washington, D.C. She fulfills the gamut of the librarian stereotype with a love of cats, coffee, and crocheting (and she likes a good run of alliteration). Her favorite color is yellow.
Like most bibliophiles, I go through times of reading spurts and reading slumps. A book that doesn’t live up to the hype can totally destroy my momentum and make me distrust any book that falls into my hands for weeks after, while a few hours at the airport can put me just in the right frame of mind to hop onboard the Reading Express without fear once again. What I don’t understand are people who dislike reading and never liked it to begin with.
I have loved reading since I can remember. It has always been a natural thing to me: I think, therefore I read. When someone tells me they don’t like to read, I have to stop myself from saying, “You just haven’t found the right book yet!” That statement may be true, but I’ve learned it’s not something most folks care to hear. I often want to follow this up with, “You don’t like to read anything? Magazines count! Graphic novels count! Newspapers count! Funny church signs count! Subtitles on your favorite anime count!” But I refrain.
Reading is so inherent to who I am, I can’t imagine who I would be without it. What would I do with my free time? Perhaps I’d be a better guitarist or a more accomplished knitter. Maybe my drawing skills would rival those of da Vinci or I’d hold some world record for doing the most sudoku puzzles in an hour. I do know I would not have as much empathy as I do without reading. I would know far less. I suspect my ability to communicate would be poorer.
But that’s me. Our non-reading friends find enrichment elsewhere — maybe they are phenomenal musicians or artists. They spend their time on the train daydreaming of amazing inventions or catching up with friends. And they aren’t any less for it.
We have, I think, a tendency to believe those who read by design or read consciously are somehow superior to those who choose to spend their time in other ways. There’s no doubt reading (which I’ll point out is different from the ability to read, or literacy) can improve your life, whether it provides relaxation and enjoyment or whether it provides information that helps you to learn new things. However, the desire to read for pleasure does not place us on any kind of moral high ground.
This undercurrent is a dangerous one, and one that might reinforce the bookish stereotypes we are so quick to cry offense to. When we are quick to judge those who don’t read, either consciously or subconsciously, we provide proof of some of those stereotypes. Society often views the nose-in-a-book archetype as someone who is unfriendly or downright curmudgeonly. Think of the many bookish characters we see in books and films — the grouchy, old professor, surrounded by his personal library; the librarian with a tightly-wound bun and a scowl; even Disney couches Belle in this characterization as the villagers find her odd and somewhat unapproachable for her love of literature.
This doesn’t mean we have to gladly enter a conversation when someone interrupts our reading time, but we should be more deliberate in how we imagine our non-reading counterparts. Resident book mascot John Green has something to say on this, too — he reminds us to “imagine others complexly.” And so we should. Friends who don’t read are not missing some large, vital part in their lives. We don’t need to keep offering recommendations, asking if they’ve read the latest New York Times Bestseller, or pushing invitations to visit the local used bookstore. Instead, meet them at a coffee shop — tell them to bring their drawing pad, and you’ll bring a book.