Across my middle school and high school years I learned an important fact of life: reading is a dumb waste of time. Who gives half a darn what Tom Sawyer did with the fence, I’d rather be kissing girls. While Treasure Island sounded like we would finally be getting somewhere, I found no treasure, barely understood the island and, as previously mentioned, was busy thinking about the girls I’d rather be kissing (many of whom would have been completely creeped out if they knew how often during English class I pictured that happening).
Here are reasons reading is dumb in case you don’t already know:
Reason number one: You do it alone. No girls. Not even friends. Just you in your boring dumb mind.
Reason number two: It doesn’t really matter what some character did. That character is not real and never was. Whoop-dee-doo: Holden is depressed. Good for him, the him that is not really him because he is NOT. REAL.
Reason number three: You don’t actually have to read anything because teachers will lead class activities and discussions and you can just find out what things mean then. Dumb. Though, now that I say this, it is actually only partially dumb because it does save more time for thinking about girl kissing and talking with friends about same-said-kissing-of-girls. So half dumb, half cool.
Reason number four (and shhhh, don’t tell): If you don’t read all of those books your class is assigned, guess what? You still can go to college! And guess what else? You still can be successful! Really. I did it. I barely read Animal Farm or Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and I was still accepted. In fact I graduated and am even perfectly happy today. I’m writing this on a plane right now! I get to travel for my job! How cool is that? Take THAT assigned chapters of Fahrenheit 451.
Now there is one small disclaimer in the dumbness of reading that I must point out: girls. At one point in high school a girl you are way into is way into something. For her it was Kurt Vonnegut (one of very few YA books in my high school years that wasn’t horrible. I’m very sorry Red Fern Grows, someone loved those dogs, somewhere. Not this guy.). And that girl has a real obsession with Cat’s Cradle so you try to read the thing and it barely makes sense but you read it anyway and then talk to her about it. So fine. There is one time you can be social with reading.
Then in college more women like more books and you find yourself pretending to read poetry because your creative writing professor is super attractive and you might, like me, find yourself rereading e. e. cummings and Kim Addonizio over and over and feeling, suddenly like that “pretty how town” is your completely totalitarian homogenizing city and that “red dress” is actually the desperate conformity that you too want to break out of. You dye your hair red. So fine, what happens in that writing matters a little and might affect you sometimes.
Then suddenly you are an adult and you find friends, some of which are self-professed “readers,” and at first, trying to fit in, you go to a bookstore and stare blankly at the shelves. How DO you pick a book? How the hell do you go about picking a book? Then you remember someone talking about The Grapes of Wrath or The Solitude of Prime Numbers or The Hunger Games and you think, “jeez a lot of books start with the word ‘The’.” Right after that you pick one of the many ones of those, by yourself, without it being assigned, because you feel closer to the people you care about when you do and because you want to read a book. I know it sounds strange, but you actually want to.
And yes, maybe one time you and your wife are upset with one another and huffed into separate rooms and you are on page one-hundred-and-whatever of The Fault in Our Stars or three booklets into Building Stories and you watch those made-up people doing made-up things that feel just like you, only you on the inside. You feel less alone. You pick your head up, walk over to the door, turn the handle, and fix what has come undone. Are compelled to be better because some dumb book helped you see yourself more clearly.
NOT reading is dumb. There, I said it.
Christopher Lehman is author of books for teachers, including Energize Research Reading and Writing and co-author of Pathways to the Common Core. He is also a Senior Staff Developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. He writers about all things education on his blog ChristopherLehman.com and follow him on twitter @iChrisLehman.