Saturday, July 26, 2014

Why Don't People Read More? And What Can We Do About It?

I recently got a Twitter account (BradleyJCannon) where I stumbled into something that really disturbs me: A huge number of the posts about reading are not even about reading at all. They are about putting off a reading assignment, checking Sparknotes, and absolutely dreading the idea of anything longer than 140 characters.

I don’t know whether high schools and colleges have forced people to read too much or read the wrong books. However, if you think a book takes too long to finish, then you’re not reading the right one. Throw it away and find another one. If the next one doesn’t work for you either then try turning off the television and start over. No one’s attention span should be as short as a Twitter post on a full-time basis.

In the last year, three books/series I read took me longer than the rest. Here's Why:
  1. I spent two whole months on Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, not because it was boring or too complicated, but because the characters crisscrossed in such a way that I wanted to take my time. Durrell’s beautifully disturbing city surely contains so many gems that no one person has ever found them all. At any moment, through the simple reveal of a character under a mask or the loss of a key, Alexandria might introduce or conclude a new perspective on life that you may never again have the privilege to experience. 
  2. I also read like a snail through Rick Braggs' All Over But the Shoutin.' Again, this was not because the book was bad, but because it was wonderful. The writing was so crisp and clear that I could hear the Southern drawl in every sentence. Sometimes the sheer placement of a comma was all it took to make me feel at home. I could not bring myself to read faster than the down-to-earth voice would tell it to me in the back of my head.
  3. Last, I’m presently halfway through Michael Chabon's The AmazingAdventures of Kavalier and Clay. So far, the book has gone from clever to extraordinary, and it is no wonder that it won a Pulitzer.  However, despite its almost 700 pages and my pile of books to read next, I find myself slowing at the end of each chapter because each one is so magnificent that I can’t help wondering if it was the chapter than earned it the Pulitzer. The fact that it might lose its steam alone has me clinging to all the sweetness as I get to it.
What We Can Do To Make People Read More?
I don’t mean to say all of this just to complain about how people don’t read these days. I would also like to offer four solutions for all of us to abide by.
  1. Read more, obviously!
  2. Talk about reading more. After all, if you liked a book, then don’t tell the next person you see all about your opinion of the Breaking Bad finale. If you are a writer, then you should consider it part of your job to constantly remind people that the written word is not dead.
  3. Stop giving your books away for free. If you want your books to have value, then give them a dollar value. If you must, give away the first few chapters or even the first half of a book instead. (This could actually become a blog post of its own because I know some people disagree with me on this point!) Not only will people think your book is free for a reason, but you are also encouraging others to think that they should be entitled to buy free books all the time. Yes, of course I've heard the argument that some readers will enjoy your free book and then decide to purchase your next book if they ever so happen to hear about it. However, it seems more likely that they will just go on to then next free book they can find. Additionally, there are a lot of poorly written free books out there too, so who’s to say that readers won’t actually become bogged down by a few bad free books and eventually become addicted to something like Netflix instant streaming instead? Speaking of which, can you imagine going to the store and getting free movies just to see if you like them before you have to pay? If not, then don’t sell your books for free either! (Note: There’s an excellent post about this on LinkedIn HERE where hundreds of people have given their opinion.)
  4. And last of all, don’t confuse school reading assignments with personal reading. Teachers do not always select books you will like so be sure to remind yourself (and others) to go out and find books that you will actually enjoy. Also, to all you English teachers out there, don’t forget that you job is not only to teach the difference between literally and figuratively, which a few of you have failed at anyway, but also to show people the value of a good book. Make them read something they'll like.
In Conclusion, Never Forget 
to keep reading because books are and will always be
  •  a means to really understand your favorite character’s thoughts;
  •  an opportunity to see dialogue as it was originally written and not as it was acted out later; 
  •  filled with scenery you get to envision something for yourself;
  •  a chance to go over something again and again;
  •  a tool to improve your own ability to write and communicate; and
  •  a steady place to connect with the sole creator of a particular piece of art.     

What solutions do you have to encourage people to read more (and where do you weigh in on giving away free books)? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

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