Reading has been on my mind recently, both because our eldest child is starting to learn to read and because recent TV documentaries and newspaper articles have revealed how poorly (if at all) British children read. Now I’ve always loved reading, and found it difficult to comprehend why others didn’t. I was puzzled during a visit to some friends a few years back when I realised that there were no books whatsoever in their house. But does a lack of interest in books really signify a lack of intelligence, intellectual curiosity or imagination? Is reading for some people just a useful skill like driving, or is it indispensible for a full and rich “life of the mind”?

Some people prefer to experience life more directly, or inform themselves in other ways (by talking to people, for example). I’d love my kids to love reading as much as I do, but would it be a disaster if they didn’t? Would it stunt their growth? Sometimes I think I spend too much time reading and should spend more time doing.

What about you? Could you love someone who doesn’t read?


15 thoughts on “Booksmarts

  1. jagosaurus November 11, 2010 / 6:41 pm

    I’ve wondered about this too since I come from a long line of people who were always in danger of being crushed by the books and bookshelves. It startles me when I enter a home with few to no books lying about.

    I think that as long as people are always learning and being entertained it’s okay, even if they aren’t getting it from books.

    The reading versus doing argument is too uncomfortably close to the currently popular introverts vs extroverts mindset (that introverts are defective and extroverts are normal) for me to consider it rationally.


  2. jagosaurus November 11, 2010 / 6:42 pm

    And to answer your question: yes I could.


  3. Lydia November 11, 2010 / 7:57 pm

    I would find it strange to relate to someone who doesn’t enjoy reading. The solace of a good book on a cold winter’s day is immense.


  4. Erik R. November 12, 2010 / 12:24 am

    This is a very interesting subject for me.

    I read MUCH less than my parents, and definitely less than you or Jagosaurus. Books, that is. A book has to really grab me for me to stay with it to the last page. Most years, I can count the number of books I’ve read on one hand.

    Does that make me a boring unlovable idiot? I’d like to think not. I suspect my writing is less eloquent than my bookworm friends, but that’s a little like judging whether you’re prettier than someone else; there’s no way you can be objective.

    However I do read several thousand words a day in blogs and news articles and the like. That’s got to count for something.

    In the end it’s got to come down to what you’re reading or listening to or watching more than how much. Quality over quantity. There are countless books with the intellectual stimulation equivalent to that of of daytime talk shows. Devouring a romance novel a day for ten years isn’t going to make you an interesting person. On the other hand, an illiterate person that travels the world would probably be fascinating to talk to.

    Jag had some excellent insight in her comparison with the intra/extravert myth. Drawing blanket assumptions about someone based on one datapoint like that is a dangerous policy.


    • simonlitton November 12, 2010 / 9:36 am

      OK, so I was probably using “books” as a blanket term for all kinds of reading. So yes, blogs and magazines count, in that sense.
      You’ll notice that I didn’t offer my own judgment in my original post; I just asked the question. But I do think that reading offers a certain specific kind of intellectual stimulation which is distinct from that gained from a conversation or an activity.
      But I’m not sure I buy the correlation between readers and introverts (or non-readers and extroverts). Just because I read doesn’t mean I’m not a people person too. Or did I misinterpret your point?
      I don’t think there’s any conflict between reading and “doing”, or the kind of people who do one and not the other. But personally I find that whenever I get any free time my default leisure activity is reading, and maybe I should aim for a little more variety. Maybe I could get just as much stimulation from a long walk…


      • jagosaurus November 12, 2010 / 3:59 pm

        I wasn’t directly linking reading with introversion/extroversion. I was merely trying to say that in my experiences, the arguments around both of these issues–arguments about whether introverts are inferior or readers are superior–all tend to sound the same to me, and I just cannot get on board with assigning value to a person based on something so subjective.

        Being a copious reader doesn’t make me a better person; being an introvert doesn’t make me a worse one.


  5. Laura November 12, 2010 / 10:30 am

    My boyfriend doesn’t read. It’s only a problem when I’ve read a truly amazing book and I want to share it with him, to see if he likes it as much or in the same ways as me. I have to make do with comparisons between books and films-of-books.

    By the same measure, I don’t really enjoy looking at new wires he’s bought, and I’m unlikely to try the new Call of Duty game to see if it moves me in the way it does him.


    • simonlitton November 12, 2010 / 10:39 am

      Oh Laura, just think what you’re missing. He’s probably dying to share his wiring passion with you.


  6. andrea November 12, 2010 / 4:28 pm

    In my own personal experience, a love of reading is an integral part of my relationship with my spouse. However, I don’t think I *couldn’t* love someone who doesn’t read much; I think it’s just worked out that a mutual love of reading has been a big part of what drew us together. I think any shared interest could do the same.

    But going back to your discussion of wanting your kids to love reading… this is something I think about a lot too. My husband and I are both insanely eager to have our kids love reading and I’m afraid I’ll put too much pressure on them and make them hate it. So I’m going to try not to push it too much. So far we haven’t had a problem; Eva absolutely loves books and spends a huge amount of time looking at them (she’ll come to us with a book and demand, “weed it to you!”)


    • simonlitton November 12, 2010 / 4:39 pm

      We haven’t had to push too much with our kids. I think they just grew up surrounded by books and took note of the fact that my wife and I read a lot, and followed suit. You know how kids love to copy and pretend to be grown-ups…


  7. J November 13, 2010 / 8:06 am

    I’m a big fan of the written word in so many of its forms. It would be difficult for me to love someone who didn’t read, mostly because I fear they would feel abandoned by me when I wanted to read. If they didn’t mind me disappearing for a few hours at a time, if he were busy doing something else, I suppose it would be fine.

    My daughter used to be a great reader. She still likes it, but the temptations of video games and facebook have pulled her away to a certain extent. I hope she gets back to her old ways someday. I do know people who love to read, read to their kids, modeled reading, have books in their house, and still, the kids don’t like reading. Not sure how that happens. Kind of like the child of a vegetarian hating produce, I suppose.


  8. Karen MEG November 20, 2010 / 9:29 pm

    I love to read; my daughter appears to have a similar love of reading, she can’t get enough of books, and she’ll climb on my lap and read to me whenever she can. I am mightily impressed with her ability at 5- her brother is only into the typical 10 yo boy fare now (ie. Wimpy kid, Graphic novels) but at least it’s a book.

    My husband likes to read – just doesn’t have the time for more leisurely reads (nor do I really, just force myself to for my “book club”). I must admit that a big part of my attraction to him initially waaaaaaay back when, was the discovery that he had a fairly impressive vocabulary. Which may have been more a reflection of the types that I was dating before him, but then, that’s another story :).


  9. Karen November 28, 2010 / 11:59 am

    I find this subject very interesting, too. I grew up with a complete bookworm for a mother, and when I was younger I read constantly too. Then I sort of went off it. Although I’m coming back to reading a little more now (I think that has a lot to do with no longer being forced to read extensively as part of school), I don’t consider myself “a reader”. And it’s nearly blasphemy to my mother or my reader friends. Yet, I do think I’m just as bright and inquisitive as, and in most cases a better writer than, my reader friends.

    There are so many ways to obtain information and exercise the imagination these days. None (including blogs and magazines in my mind) engage the mind in the same *way* as reading, but perhaps they can do so to the same *extent*. Or perhaps for some people (and I would include myself here), curiosity and imagination can be cultivated and engaged with from within, without much aid from external input.

    Anyway, very interesting post & comments!


    • simon November 28, 2010 / 1:39 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Karen. You’ve articulated one of the things I was actually trying to say in the first place: that it’s possible to be intellectually “engaged” in a different way but to the same extent by non-reading activities.


  10. hazel December 2, 2010 / 5:40 pm

    One of my mothers specific memories of me as a child (when there are five there is a lot of memory muddling!)was when I would climb into their bed at night,not because of nightmares,but to’read’ and I would sit up and turn the pages of whatever she was reading-often an Agatha Christie with a lurid cover (probably explains a lot).
    When I am having a particularly tedious day at work,sometimes just imagining a great book to delve into as soon as I get home keeps me going, just the anticipation.


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