Dear Book Nerd: "My Family Doesn't Read"

We put out the call for questions, and you guys didn’t disappoint! The response to my initial “Dear Book Nerd” post was overwhelming (in a good way). Thank you to everyone who submitted.

So let’s get right to our first question!

Dear Book Nerd,

“I am the only one who reads in my family. How do I make my siblings like reading? They don’t even read comic books. By the way, they are 15 and 11.”

Dear Mide,

First of all, I want to thank you for providing my very first question to answer. I’m excited about starting this column and I hope I can help with your issue in some small way. In ANY small way. At all. Even just a little bit. PLEASE GOD DON’T LET ME SCREW THIS UP.

Okay. So. The fact that you want to share your love of books with your family shows that you’re a great sibling. I grew up in a reading household, and having a lazy day just lounging around and reading with my family was one of my favorite pastimes (and when I go home to visit, still is).

But there are also a lot of interests that I don’t share with my family, and that’s okay too. We can’t always love the same things that our loved ones love. (Say that five times fast.) Cultivating different hobbies is something that makes family life interesting, even as it simultaneously creates a divide.

So, I do have an answer for you. It might not be the answer you want to hear, but it’s an honest answer: you cannot make anyone like reading. Not even your siblings. Not even if you beg or yell at them or hide their Etch-A-Sketches or sell their One Direction records on eBay or whatever gets kids riled up these days.

True, you could use the “Clockwork Orange” method and hold their eyes open with a speculum and try to force them to read.

Please don't try this at your local library.

Please don’t try this at your local library.

But as fun as that may look, it’s not going to work. People don’t like to be pressured to do an activity that they are not motivated to do on their own, even if it’s something that should theoretically be enjoyable. They get sulky or defensive or downright defiant, like when my library patrons don’t want to pay their late fines. (Kidding! LOVE YOU, PATRONS.)

Now, look. I’m a librarian. It’s pretty much my job to try to help foster a love of reading in people. And I do my best on a daily basis to make that happen. Of course, I have an advantage: those who come into the library generally already have a love of reading to begin with, or they are impressionable young children who don’t know that all the fun books we read and those innocent songs we sing during storytime are actually PRO-LITERACY PROPAGANDA. But even I know that no matter how enthusiastic I am about books and reading, some kids are just not going to care. Not yet, anyway. And I say “yet” because there is still hope. There is always hope.

You mention that your siblings are 11 and 15 years old. I’m not sure what your own age is, but for the purposes of this column, I’m going to assume that you are older than they are. Here’s a potentially comforting fact for you: sometimes it takes a while for a person to learn to love reading – even YEARS. Librarians and educators know that if a kid loves to read when they are young, their interest level can taper off during the teen years and then increase again when they are older. So even if your siblings don’t enjoy reading now, there’s a good chance they’ll pick it up eventually. Or, of course, maybe not. You just never know.

So what’s the solution? I think you should just keep doing what you’re doing. Keep reading. Lead by quiet example and let nature take its course. BUT if you find yourself simply unable to let sleeping non-readers lie, here are a few sneaky ways to encourage your siblings to read, or at least get them to think that maybe reading isn’t the most boring thing ever:

1) Watch a fun or adventure-filled kid/teen-friendly movie (“Harry Potter,” “The Lightning Thief,” “Hugo”). If your siblings love it, tell them it was a book FIRST and that the book is better.

2) Tell your siblings you’re taking them out for ice cream/pizza/whatever. On the drive over, casually say that you have to “stop by” the library or bookstore on the way and ask them to come in with you. (Make sure the car doors are locked to prevent escape.)

3) Slip a $20 bill into a book, let it slightly hang out, and leave it where your siblings will see it. I guarantee they’ll be interested in the book then. (Or you could use that $20 to buy more books for yourself and not even worry about what they are doing.)

Good luck to you, Mide. Keep on readin’.

Do you have a question to ask the Book Nerd? Don’t be shy! Use the form below. (And, again, see my introductory post for some basic guidelines.) I look forward to more of your questions, Riot lovers.


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