Threats to Reading?

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I’m sure the comments will be totally fine.  Not like I’m blaming English teachers for turning students off to reading.  I’m not, but it can be seen that way.  Not blaming parents either.  I might blame whoever is so distant from the real world that they think the way we teach literature is good for everyone. Betting it’s a politician.  I’m sure someone is going to blame TV, video games, and movies in the comments.  Anyway, let’s get away from me trying to predict the worst case scenario.

Reading should be fun.

Anybody want to disagree?  Well, the truth is that for the first quarter of our lives, we’re forced to read most of the books we interact with.  I was an Honors English student in high school, but dropped out of that when I simply hated the books.  They were boring and didn’t hold my attention.  I’d skim in the hopes of getting enough to pass tests, but I preferred the fantasy, science fiction, and superhero stuff I had at home.  If I was reading the school assignments, I’d be too tired to read what I wanted, especially since there was always a writing component of the work.  For a few months, it looked like I would give up on reading entirely.  In fact, I realized that many adults I knew didn’t read much and they said it was because they didn’t think it was fun.

Jump to present day with my son in his ELA class.  He’s younger than me and his grades are around the same level as mine at that age.  Yet, he puts up a fight for reading almost everything.  He’ll stick to graphic novels if given a choice, which are accepted for his independent reading.  Due to how his mind works, he is a very slow and easily distracted reader though.  So, it takes him a long time to read assignments.  This results in him losing an entire afternoon if he has to do a few chapters.  It also means asking him to read over the weekend is equivalent to trying to give a cat a bath.  My son enjoys the stories he gets to choose and many of what he’s assignment, but he finds the act of reading a chore.  So, I worry that he won’t be a lifelong reader.

All of this got me thinking about how we teach students to read and then move on to literature.  I see it at work and at home.  It’s easy early on, but things can go sideways once the larger novels come into play.  Each student has their own interests and way of learning, so it’s difficult to get a book that will be enjoyed by everyone.  Some might prefer to read on their own while others do better if they’re in a group or read it as a class.  The addition of independent reading certainly helps, but can become a problem if a student reads slow.  Then, they will have two books to read at the same time and the pressure of the task will grow.  Feels like a lose-lose situation here.  Don’t get me wrong because teachers do their best in a system where students are looked at as their numbers more than their individuality.

Then there are the parents, especially those who love reading and can’t understand when their child doesn’t want to.  They might read to their child at a young age and nurture a love of literature.  That’s always a good thing.  Yet, they can end up pushing too hard when the child is becoming more independent.  They might want to do something else or read certain books, which the parent doesn’t enjoy.  Here is where some go wrong in trying to force the issue.  It becomes a chore and a battle, which means the child will begin hating reading before they ever step foot in a school.  It’s even more of a problem if you have a child who has trouble reading and you don’t give them the proper time to get through a book.  I’ve seen that happen a bit.

People tend to not think about this issue, but it’s one that I’ve thought about since I was a teenager.  It worries me as an author too.  If younger generations read less and less then what chance do new authors have to get an audience?  They’re more likely to stick to the big names that already have shows and movies based on their books.  I can’t really blame them.  After years of being forced to read things, a person will be more careful about what they pick up.  A movie or show can be an introduction that tells them if they will like to invest more time in a story.  You might think to blame the other media types for this problem, but is it really their fault?

The truth is that something stops being fun when you turn it into a chore.  This goes for hobbies that are turned into soul-sucking jobs, video games that become mindless grinds, and anything that loses its excitement.  Books require a lot of imagination and time investment, so they have a harder time than more visual media.  This is made worse by them being forced upon kids who are already turning away from reading.  The dislike of the practice grows and stays well into adulthood.  For example, I’ve talked to many people in their 70’s who refuse to read poetry specifically because it was forced in high school and they hated it.  Some remember having different views on a poem than the teacher, their peers, and their parents.  This makes them feel like they don’t get it and may never understand it.

Actually, that’s another issue when it comes to reading.  We really try to force the concept of analysis.  Teachers and parents do this.  We ask a child what they think the author means or to explain the plot.  Rarely, do we ask how the story makes a child feel, which has no wrong answer.  In March, my son started reading a manga called ‘Toriko’, which involves a character who hunts down rare and dangerous ingredients.  The first few pages had no words, but showed food to get the tone right.  My son talked for the rest of the day about how delicious the pictures looked and how it made him hungry.  This also made him want to keep reading.  I can’t think of any test or analysis that would result in a child giving this answer and being allowed to keep it.


So, there are a lot of threats to the love of reading.  We have to battle through them starting at a very early age.  Feels like most don’t make it to adulthood with much interest in books.  That amount gets larger with every generation too.  I’ll go into ways to nurture reading both as a parent and teacher on Wednesday.  For now, what do you think about this?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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16 Responses to Threats to Reading?

  1. I’ve always loved reading, my Mum and Grandfather encouraged me to visualise and add different voices, etc, to what I was reading which made it even more interesting for me.
    The real problem came when I started school, I was already reading stuff suitable for a twelve year old but was shouted at, by teachers, for doing the voices thing and being a show off storyteller rather than stumbling through basic Jack and Jill type stuff. Fortunately Mum and Granddad told me to forget what they said, just play along with their game and carry on reading what I wanted at home.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a common issue. Many teachers push for everyone to read the same way, so those who established unconventional reading habits get in trouble. My son needs to read out loud to fully understand things, so he has some issues in school.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always loved reading, but I was bored to death by the way literature was taught in school. We had to read Harold Pinter’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ around the class, which totally failed to bring it to life, then we had to learn the teacher’s in-depth analysis of what it all meant. Years later, I saw it performed on TV and thoroughly enjoyed it. There was also an interview with Pinter where he was asked about the ‘inner meaning’ of the play and he said there was no inner meaning, it was meant to be taken at face value. I often wondered if my teacher saw that interview.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Plays are the roughest type of story to learn in school. I was made to read Romeo & Juliet, which sucked. I liked when we acted out Julius Caesar and simply discussed Othello.

      Liked by 1 person

    • V.M.Sang says:

      I always loved reading from a very early age, but not always the books we read at school. Sometimes I did. We read The History of Mr Polly by H.G.Wells for ‘O’ level (aged 16), and it was interesting and funny.
      When I went on to higher education I chose English Literature as a subsidiary subject (I think you call it minor in the US) because I enjoyed reading. One book we studied I refused to answer any exam questions on it (we had a choice) because I felt that analysing it would ruin it for me.
      It’s this analysis of books we read where I think we go wrong. Everyone has an opinion about a book from whether it was enjoyable to what it means. (Same with poetry.) Many books people read and don’t see any extra meaning; yet in school we force them to find meaning, even if there may not be one.
      Poetry is the same, in fact, more so. Oddly, the posts of mine that get the most views are when I post a poem. Yet poetry books, we are told, don’t sell.
      I also think that this is the reason people don’t review the books they read. Memories of doing book reviews at school (usually of the books they read independently).
      I read to my children. One has grown up reading, and loves a good book. The other never reads fiction. Hardly any books, in fact, preferring to get stuff from the net.
      My daughter read to her children, but they don’t read.
      I agree that the way we teach our children should be improved. Not every child, as you well know, Charles, can be taught in the same way, yet all, in the UK at least, everyone seems to be taught in an academic way.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. L. Marie says:

    I’m glad to see graphic novels more in use in many classrooms nowadays. Nathan Hale’s illustrated history graphic novels were huge sellers and way more appealing to students in history class than textbooks. People forget that one size does not fit all when it comes to reading. Neither of my brothers is a reader because they weren’t into the assigned books. Our father, however, loves to read. When I was a kid, we had books all over the house on a variety of subjects. But his favorite was science fiction.

    Back when I was in college, genre fiction was a no-no, unless it was written by Ray Bradbury or H. G. Wells. I’m grateful for the school librarian who steered me to A WRINKLE IN TIME. By the way, a college student told me that his favorite class by far was a class on the modern young adult novel. They read books like HUNGER GAMES! 😊


  4. reading is what I do, mostly. I’ve always been a reader. Sometimes also a writer. I guess an analogy would be with maths. Do it until you’re 18. Fuck that. It doesn’t work that way. To get the full picture, reading must become both a habit and a joy. Most readers and buyers of books, as you know, are women. I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say. But in reading we begin to understand there is no one answer, but many possibilities. We know it makes us more empathic. Look at Trump, the moron’s moron, that’s never read a book, but yet has supposedly wrote a few. That about sums it up. What? I don’t know.


    • The problem is that many are turned off to books. With women reading more, a part of that is how boys are pushed to do other things. Some are even discouraged from reading to make room for more ‘worthwhile’ endeavors like sports, nature things, and manly stuff. As for Trump, everyone knows he used a ghost writer.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. This is a great dissection of the problem. Changing this might be like fighting city hall, only on a national scale. I think many of the questions about plot and meaning came from a need to establish grades for this subject. To prove someone read the assignment and that they learned something from it. Then you have beautiful baby syndrome. Someone comes up with the plot points, meaning, and moral. (Insisting every book has a moral.) Once that’s on paper, it becomes a matter of calling someone’s baby ugly if you don’t agree. Any joy gets sucked out of the process.


  6. A very captivating subject, Charles. As I think back on my school days, I don’t think there was a teacher who made me feel as if reading should be fun. There were always so many reasons to dread reading homework. I took a course in college on contemporary literature that was inspiring. The professor allowed us to choose our books and then asked us what the story meant to us. For every book we read had to turn in a paper on what the story meant. These papers were a no-brainer since, like you mentioned, there seemed to be no wrong answer. Class time was spent in oral discussions on what we were reading. I don’t remember how he graded the student, but I think there was a heavy weight given to participation and quantity. Super post.


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