It’s okay not to read books. It’s okay not to identify as a ‘reader’. This might seem like an incongruous thing to be talking about on World Book Night – the day when people give out books to people who don’t usually read – but perhaps that makes it the best day to be thinking about it.
In the bookish and reading world, there is a lot of discussion about genre snobbery – that literary fiction is often seen as ‘greater’ or more worthy than sci-fi, fantasy, or romance, even though it’s actually not (but that’s a topic for another time). What’s talked about less is the snobbery of reading itself. A couple of authors I’ve (un)followed on twitter continually lament people’s lack of reading in comparison to their other hobbies like watching films or gaming. For them, for many, reading is the ultimate art. And there have been studies which show that reading can increase empathy, slow age-related memory decline, and decrease stress.
But for some people (including me at times) reading is physically difficult due to health problems or learning difficulties, and not at all enjoyable as a consequence. And whilst I do believe that there really is a book out there for everyone, reading just isn’t everybody’s jam. They get their stories through films or games or artwork or tv series. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s also nothing wrong with not consuming anything you might consider ‘the arts’ either. It doesn’t mean a person lacks creativity – in order to solve some of the hardest mathematical problems you require an incredible amount of creativity and ingenuity.
The passage below by Andrew Brighton is in response to a comment by Tessa Jowell that without art people do not reach their potential, “with a consequent loss of human realisation”. And that art is at the heart of being a “fully developed human being”, which, as Brighton suggests, implies that those without art are less than fully human.
Of course people want to share and involve others in what they love, but some of the chat around books can sometimes veer uncomfortably close to this territory – that if you don’t read, or even if you do read but not very regularly, you are missing out on something fundamental to making you ‘whole’.
I think books and reading offer something special; it’s not a passive medium as the act of reading requires actively engaging with a text. I love reading and I love books, particularly as they have given me both something to enjoy and a way of connecting with others during a long period of ill-health that can be literally isolating at times. It’s okay to believe reading is the most glorious, the most life-enhancing hobby to spend your time on. It’s okay to disagree completely. It’s okay to be somewhere in between. You are still fully human.
[Edit: I don’t mean to say that WBN is about this kind of ‘reading above all else’ snobbery; it’s a great way of introducing people to books they might enjoy. I’ve just used WBN as a starting point for discussion.]