On my Twitter bio, I call myself a “literary fiction writer & reader.” For the past five years, I’ve considered my writing as serious enough to warrant the title of “writer.” But as for the “reader” part . . . not so much. It’s been just two years since I realized that if I was going to write great fiction, I would need to read great fiction, too.
Part of the reason I took so long to become a serious reader is that I didn’t read Stephen King’s On Writing (2000) until I was seventeen. That book inspired me to set a reading goal (or challenge, depending on your view of reading) for the rest of the year, and for 2018, I upped the ante on that.
But another big reason I believe that I didn’t cotton onto reading earlier lies in the general state of reading today: According to this rather saddening TIME article from 2014, the typical American spends 19 minutes a day reading for fun. If it ever was, it sure doesn’t seem like reading is cool. Or trendy. Within the first couple of hours alone of our mornings, we probably spend more than that number just scrolling through social media. (By the way, I hate days where the first thing I’m doing is staring at a palm-sized array of pixels.) In 2018, Pew Research Center reported that 24% of Americans hadn’t read a single book in 2017.
So, now that I’ve started to get into reading, I’m starting to realize how saddening this dearth of reading is. This isn’t too bash other media forms: I watch an episode of Malcolm in the Middle every evening and a movie every Saturday night, and since I mentioned having a Twitter bio, you can probably figure out that I’m on the social media I just got done bashing earlier. What I wonder is how reading seems to have fallen off–maybe even collapsed–in popularity compared to other mediums.
Or has it?
Back in 2015, in an article that made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, Bookriot.com showed some good news about reading in the form of colorful infographics. Also, I find it heartening whenever I’m on Goodreads, often when I’m researching for my Sunday blog posts, and see thousands of reviews for, and hundreds of thousands of ratings of, classic novels.
As a result, I do think reading for fun has a future, even if some of the stats are unsettling. It is a future, though, that we can’t take for granted. We’ll have to make it, day-by-day, starting by–you guessed it–opening a book.
I remember my own process of becoming a reader: I was reluctant at first and found it difficult to work into my schedule. I’m guessing time is one of the top reasons people don’t read much or read at all. Well, I never did “find” the elusive time to neatly fit reading into. I don’t think I ever will. Instead, I had to carve out a chunk, and if that chunk felt too long, I divided it into smaller, easier-to-chew chunks.
Another obstacle facing reading that I had to get over was the belief that books are, somehow, incredibly dull.
Yes, some books are boring. About a third of the books I pick up, I put down and don’t finish. But to call books–and reading in general–mundane and the antithesis of entertainment is like vowing to never watch TV because the first show on the first channel that came on made you want to tear your eyes out.
So, please, give books a chance. The more you read, the more you whittle away at that scary 24% figure and add to that 19-minute one. After a while (such as two years), you may even feel the right to complain about the state of reading, as is the case with me!
Follow me on Twitter: @ethan_nelsonwrt
Check out my blog on reading those classic novels collecting dust on your bookshelves: https://ethannelsonwriter.com/2019/02/27/welcome-to-dusting-off-the-classics/