We are all college students here, which means we’re supposed to enjoy reading. “Reading” refers not simply to the act of interpreting the written word, however. “Reading” means curling up with a work of Literary Fiction printed on dead tree matter and looking at all the words on all the pages. This kind of capital-R Reading is the only virtuous form of time-wasting. Think about it: you’d never admit to staying in on a Friday night to watch Instant Netflix, but you’d totally tell your friends if you stayed in to finish reading Lolita.
I think of myself as a person who reads. I enjoy a book from time to time, but I’m much more likely to spend an afternoon browsing Tumblr or watching TV than cracking a book. And yet, if someone says they Don’t Read Books I eye them askance. This is wrong of me.
The whole hierarchy of reading is super dumb. Guys, reading is supposed to be fun. If capital-R Reading is not fun for you, you do not have to do it. Allow me to elaborate:
You can read anything you want. I don’t understand why reading fiction is so much more virtuous than reading non-fiction. Like, if I don’t read novels but I read The New Yorker cover to cover every week, I’m still putting a ton of interesting and/or beautiful words into my brain, which is the whole point of reading. Periodicals are fine! Novels marketed to teens are fine! Tweets: still fine! Longer, older, or more difficult things are not better. As long as you keep your brain on, all reading is good. Even fanfic.
You can read anywhere you want. Obvs you can read on the subway or at Starbucks or at a bar. But also, you can read on any device. I do most of my reading on my iPhone, so I look like one of those millennial jerks who’s glued to their phone. And I am one of those jerks! But I’m a jerk who’s reading a biography of Genghis Khan. Reading on your smartphone/tablet/e-reader/laptop is still reading! Paper is not magically more intellectually challenging than pixels! The only problem is that if you’re on your phone there is a 0% that an attractive person will come up to you and ask what you’re reading. (Sidenote: don’t torrent books, please. Writers need your money. If you’re strapped for cash, explore the many public domain works available on Wikisource.)
You can read any way you want. Story: When I read for class, I keep my place with a pencil so I can underline and write notes. I used to think that when I read for pleasure, this was somehow not allowed. I was supposed to let the words wash over me and magically never get distracted or forget anything. But then, a couple of weeks ago, I saw one of my smartest, best-read friends reading in Peirce and using his finger to keep his place. His finger! Ever since then I’ve been pencil-reading without shame, because pleasure reading is supposed to be for pleasure. Whatever weird thing you like to do to make reading easier or more enjoyable is totally fine. Sometimes I like to read on my laptop with old episodes of King of the Hill playing in the other browser window. I’m not ashamed.
You don’t have to read. Let’s be real: expecting everybody to read big thick books is pretty classist and ableist. Some people have neurological differences that make it difficult to sit down and read quietly for long periods of time. Some people have busy lives. Some people just don’t like to read. There are other media you can enjoy. TV shows like Mad Men or videogames like Bioshock can be just as intellectually challenging as a great novel. You know what else can be intellectually challenging? Hanging out with other humans. Also sports, crafts, music, and any of the myriad other things humans do that don’t necessarily involve words. If you don’t read you can still be an interesting and intelligent human.
So, guys, don’t let someone complain that our generation doesn’t read. Don’t get down on yourself for not being able to finish Ulysses. Stand up and say, “I love to read, but only album reviews!”, or “I love to read, but only free-for-Kindle romance novels!”, or “I hate reading, but I’m catching up on Breaking Bad and it’s blowing my mind!” The important thing is to love something, to be passionate and engaged and excited. Or, you know, not. It’s your life.
One of the best articles the thrill has posted in a long time.
Eve, I love your posts. Keep doing your thing.
This is awesome.