Why Bother Reading? Converting a Readophobe

My Reading Position

I love reading. I flipping adore it. One day without reading and I feel uncomfortable, depleted and just plain wrong.

Reading, for me, is one of the things I just do, like breathing, eating, sleeping… I don’t even consider why I do it. Therefore this post is more challenging to write than I previously thought.

How Would I Get a Readophobe to Read?

Because I see reading as something that just happens for me it takes some thinking about why I actually do it.

Could I convince a readophobe to read? That’s a large undertaking for any of us. Maybe I could begin by detailing what reading does for me by way of some dangling carrots:

  • Books smell lush. You cannot bottle that odour. Only books can provide it. You need to have a book at least open in your hands to get your fix. Caution: libraries can cause a book odour overdose.
  • Getting lost in a book is an amazing form of escapism. You can become so immersed in a plot and other people’s lives that you find yourself transported there with them. This is particularly delightful if the world you’re living in is a bit crappy.
  • Reading can happen with a physical book or electronically. You cannot hold a film in your hands but you can download a book whenever you fancy it. Just like Netflix, you can binge on a box set of books too.
  • Reading in bed is a form of heaven wrapped in a duvet and paper. It has been proven that reading before bed is conducive to a good night’s sleep. Unless you’re like me and need to read ‘just one more’ of many chapters resulting in a 3am bedtime. Still worth it.
  • Books are teachers. I’ve learnt about different personalities, places, issues, cultures, experiences, new vocabulary and so much more. I don’t even have to leave my chair or bed to do so. Reading is perfect for lazy gits like me.

Why bother reading - book love heartWould my reasons alone convince a readophobe to read more? Maybe if I said them with enough conviction *read as coercion with a bit of a headlock thrown in*.

I can gush about how much reading transforms my life every time I crack open a book and all you fellow book addicts will be nodding furiously.

I can also guarantee that all these marvellous reasons will largely fall on readophobe deaf ears because this is my love, my reasons, and my connection with books. You can’t know it until you do it.

So the question remains, how on earth do you get a readophobe to read?

Teaching Readophobes

Previously as an English teacher of 11-18 year olds, I’ve heard many reasons for not reading. Here are just a few:

  • It’s boring
  • Books are too long
  • We don’t have any books at home
  • I don’t like reading books
  • Geeks and nerds read; it’s not cool

I always smiled that really annoying teacher knowing smile when I heard these comments, mainly because I like to annoy kids. It was also because I’ve heard them a million times before. Readophobes aren’t original.

I will never try to force anyone to do what I like to do. We all have our own interests and younger people deserve to discover their own too. However, I was a teacher, of English no less, and therefore my job was to make their lives as miserable as possible by force-feeding them with Dickens et al, right? Wrong.

Why bother reading? Man with head in sand next to booksYou know the old adage, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink? Well it’s kind of different with teenagers who hate reading. You can lead these horses to water but they will often piss in the pond. Never try to make a teenage do anything, particularly in front of their peers. They will dirty the waters.

Reading unfortunately becomes most uncool, or whatever the kids are saying nowadays, once pubes sprout. Puberty kills books; fact. There are of course kids who read in their teens and manage to style it out but it’s not the norm.

As an English teacher you can either lay under your desk and hope that your classes (or you) will disappear, or you can be a little creative in getting them to read more.

I always had 10 minutes of reading time at the beginning of every lesson. You can imagine the groans at the start of every academic year when this was announced. I didn’t budge on this once. However I did make it a lot more enticing than they thought it might be.

They moaned and gave all the aforementioned excuses. I slayed them down like the ninja reading warrior I am.

I hate reading being made into a chore. I’ve even seen teachers set reading as a detention exercise. Reading as a punishment! My book-loving heart quivers in horror.

My classes’ reading time allowed them to bring in their own reading materials; if it was printed, they could pretty much bring it in.

I did have to edit the guidelines when a smart arse kid brought in a baked beans tin to read the ingredients.

I also had to check Jack’s bag every lesson to make sure he didn’t have his Dad’s copy of Playboy in there.

Jack constantly tried to convince me he was reading the stories not ‘checking out the tits and bits’ as he so eloquently put it. I always called his bluff by opening the mag to the story he was supposed to have read and then asking him to give me a synopsis. I figured this would either catch him out if he hadn’t read it or embarrass him enough in recounting erotica out loud never to bring it in again. We compromised and allowed a less racy magazine for future reading sessions.

Reading time became my students’ favourite part of the lesson. They groaned when it was over.

The girls were swapping chick lit. The boys were drooling over car magazines together. The bookworms were devouring best sellers, and I could also have a cheeky little read in the corner.

I think the key to it all was to make sure they knew reading wasn’t just about books and particularly the books we are always told to read; in school or by reading snobs.

Don’t get me wrong, this was not easy. It took weeks to get the kids reading. There was resistance but making it a pursuit tailored to their choices and interests helped. However, I’m not disillusioned enough to think that all my students were hoovering up books in their spare time.

So, once more; how you get a readophobe to read?

Should You Try to Convince a Readophobe to Read?

Here is where I’m going to be possibly controversial.

I don’t think we should try to get readophobes to read.

There, I’ve said it. Now hear me out.

No one wants the world to be reading more than me, particularly if they are reading my future published works. This alone compels me to put every readophobe into a reading programme consisting of my short stories. However, I know that’s not the answer *secretly plots a reading programme regardless*.

Why bother reading - chained booksChildren in school are a different matter. Kids need to learn to read and read consistently throughout their education.

I’ve encountered illiterate adults who feel such shame and are often living lives of subterfuge because they cannot read. It breaks my heart that they were not given the opportunities to read and grasp a rudimentary understanding of words.

Who I’m addressing are those who can read but choose not to do so for leisure.

I don’t want to do an underwater dive, mainly because I swim like a brick. I have no desire to bungee jump as I quite like my underwear remaining clean. You will never find me collecting stamps or spotting trains because… moving on… play nice Lisa.

There are many pursuits I would never consider or I’ve tried and found weren’t for me. Therefore I have to respect that there are many people out there who feel the same way about reading.

I’ve done my time trying to convince people to read when I was a teacher. I refuse to be a reading Nazi.

I cannot engage in bashing books metaphorically over others’ heads trying to get them to read.

I will not be that person who pulls the face of pseudo pity when someone tells me they don’t read. No one is ill or dying.

If a readophobe does not want to read, that’s their choice. Let it go, those of you who feel like you need to be a poster boy or girl for reading. You’re going to keep losing your readophobe friends. Respect their decision, horrific as it is may seem to us bookworms.

From my experience I’ve often found that readophobes are the stubborn type. They decided not to read the second they left education and have committed to that. They will not be moved. They fend off the glare of a shiny kindle or a laminate covered library book like Dracula in sunlight. They are resolute. Or so they think…

Here’s a secret; readophobes aren’t as anti-reading as they may think. Just like the teens in my classes, they do read.

Let them think they’ve chosen to never read again after school is out but secretly smile as you watch them reading their favourite magazine, working out the mysteries of IKEA instructions, or reading the back story to their computer game.

When they watch a film they are visually reading a screenplay. When they sing their favourite song they are aurally reading the lyricist’s words.

Oh no, they don’t ever do reading.

Oh yes you do, readophobes.

Victory, albeit sneaky, my fellow reading devotees, is all ours.

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

34 comments on “Why Bother Reading? Converting a Readophobe

  1. Haha you gotta love the kid who brought a baked bean tin to class!

    I got a non-reader reading once. New guy at work, started commuting by bus, found it boring. I suggested he read like I did. He got some action type novel and was like, wow I haven’t read a book since school, and I’m really enjoying it! That was a good feeling 🙂

    1. It is a good feeling sharing the reading joy with those who don’t know it. It’s like passing on magic.

      The baked bean kid was a complete smart arse. I bet he’s going to be the next Prime Minister *shudders in horror at the thought*.

  2. Been a bookworm all my life. My husband finds it fascinating how I disappear in a book and don’t move an inch for long periods of time. I try to instill a love of reading with my own sons but always try to gift them books I know that they’ll enjoy and learn from. Like Aesop Fables and Dr. Seuss Oh the Thinks, You Can Think for my oldest. Green Eggs and Ham for my youngest and his latest favorite, his gift from last Christmas, Where the Wild Things Are. He loves the book so much, he asks it to be read to him every night before bed, even though he knows the book by heart, recites it as you’re reading to him.

    1. I love to hear how parents facilitate reading for their children and play an active role in that.How wonderful it must be to have that bonding reading time with them.

      Thanks for commenting Lidy.

  3. I don’t read much anymore….

    Except websites, forums, blogs, nerdy rule books (and they have lots of fluff/background stories too) and so on.
    People think reading is ‘just’ reading books only but it’s so much more as you point out!

  4. Love the subterfuge you employ in this one. I feel like you can create a whole new secret government agency – the RCA (Readophobe Conversion Agency) with these tactics.

  5. This is such an amazing post! I read the whole thing 😉 No really, I love reading, it saddens me how much we, as a society, neglect to read. It’s sad because reading is what feeds the brain, evolves the mind and develops your vocabulary. I have to admit, with my busy life, I hardly have the time for it these days. Once in a while though, I get the desire to escape this crazy world through the pages of a good book. Thanks for motivating me to do that again 🙂

    1. I am always happy to motivate others to read Jenny! It is hard to fit it in sometimes but even a short burst whilst waiting for an appointment, just before bed or first thing in the morning are all beneficial. Thanks so much for reading my post – all of it!

    1. Anything you force kids to do is going to be a mission as I’m sure you know!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I enjoy reading your blog posts too.

  6. i have a friend who hates to read been trying to get her to read shorter books and in genres she likes on tv like superhero stuff and fantasy

    1. It sounds like you’re showing her that there are things she can read that might be to her interest. This is the approach I took when teaching.

      Thanks for commenting.

  7. Reading is a very nice hobby. I read somewhere that reading reduces stress. Other than this, reading also has many other benefits. Indeed people who love reading have the best company – the company of a good book.

  8. Such a great post! You had me hooked the entire way through. As someone who LOVES reading, I will never understand those who don’t. I agree that we shouldn’t force readophobe’s to read. I’ll take care of all those books they are leaving unread! Haha!

    1. It’s a dirty job having to read all those books for them Amanda but I’m willing to help you out!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  9. When I was a kid I was a VORACIOUS reader…I would go with my mom to the mall, and she would leave me in the kids section of the bookstore while she shopped. It was the 70’s, and you could do that back then. I don’t get to read nearly as often anymore, but there’s nothing better than reading on a lazy weekend or while on vacation.

    1. I remember being left to read in the library while my mum went shopping. It was bliss! I guess that’s where I began my love of libraries.

      I agree that reading for pleasure is so enjoyable.

      Thanks for commenting Karyl.

  10. Honestly, I can’t even fathom how anyone could NOT love getting lost in a good book! It’s a pleasure I’ve enjoyed for as long as I can remember. In fact, before I COULD read, I was read TO, every night before bed. Even after I learned to read myself, I loved curling up in bed, listening to my Mom read a few chapters of our favorite book series, “Riding Academy”! As an adult, I’ve moved across the country, and changed apartments several times. After each move, the first boxes to be unpacked are filled with my collection of books!

    1. It is difficult for us bookworms to understand why people don’t like reading but the way I look at is that people have interests they are passionate about and probably cannot understand why others don’t like them too.

      I’ve moved house many times and just like you the books come out of their boxes first! There are always a lot of them to unpack!

      Thanks so much for sharing your love of reading in your comment Cait.

  11. If you convert my husband, I promise you a lifetime supply of coffee, cheese and chocolate. He once told me that books are not a proper present. You’re going to need propofol, industrial strength duct tape and possibly a taser. Oh, and a dungeon to keep him in for a year while you work through his book-o-phobia. Apparently books breed dust. LMAO.
    Do you give up?

    1. Oh wow Pam, you don’t set the easiest of tasks do you? How about we just skip a generation and concentrate on Mikey instead? It’s probably for the best, much as the lure of all those promised goodies makes me want to try!

  12. I love reading, but most of my friends are “readophobes”. And I put that in quotation marks because you’re right–they do still read. One friend does tons of research and studying for games he enjoys, another reads textbooks and news articles, another reads a lot about teaching (she’s a teacher)…the list goes on.

    It’s a sneaky victory, but it IS a victory!

    1. No one will ever be able to escape reading. We have to be able to do it in order to function. It’s a shame that so many don’t see it as something to enjoy beyond that.

  13. I used to teach Junior High and High School English so I completely understand your difficulty. It’s hard getting them to want to read when they are always concerned with what their peers think of them.

    1. It is most definitely about not wanting to look geeky in front of their peers. It’s odd how books get such a nerd-like image with teens as there are so many amazing books out there. I guess it’s viewed as being studious which kids don’t value highly.

  14. I think a lot has to do with the content – they need to want to read. I was a very average reader until an English teacher gave me a copy of the book she was reading and said to give it a try, I LOVED IT – after that I was reading everything by the author and then got the bug. Still some 8 years later I still credit that teacher, I went from reading the bare minimum for classes to well over 100 books a year now.

    1. I absolutely agree. That’s why I allowed my classes to bring in materials they wanted to read, magazines included. I never want reading to be a chore for anyone. I love hearing how a teacher helped you to unlock a love of reading. Thanks so much for sharing this Staci.

  15. This is a most timely post for me. You see, I have a Granddaughter who has been a most voracious reader for several years now, a situation that pleased me no end. If nothing else it made birthday and Christmas present buying dead easy. But, alas, it couldn’t last. She is now 10 years-old and suddenly there are other things to do with one’s life – friends to phone or text, interminable YouTube videos to watch and other pursuits involving technology that I don’t understand or want to. I was worried for her mental wellbeing but your post caused me to remember that I too stopped reading for many years – roughly between the age when I discovered pubs and the age when my two daughters were old enough to look after themselves – but I came back to the printed word in the end. I hope she will too. In the meantime, I can always sneak the odd baked beans tin in front of her.

    1. It is a sad fact that pre-teens do often lose their love of reading because of peer pressure, technology and fads. Like you say though, hope isn’t lost! I stopped reading for quite a while in my teens and returned to it with gusto. You can relate!

      Thanks for sharing this with me and here’s hoping for your Granddaughter!

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