Don’t read because you should


When I was growing up, I read a lot of trash: comic books and Edgar Rice Burroughs, for instance. I read them because I liked them, not because I had a list of Great Books I should be reading, and because of that, I grew up loving to read.

And then when we had kids, I didn’t try to dictate what they should read. There was a stage when they were into Pokemon and magic cards: I didn’t judge, I tried to learn the games, and we got them stories and magazines about the subjects. Then there was the Harry Potter phase — I read the first couple of them, found them tedious and repetitive, but man, the kids ate them up, and I was happy to see it.

So beware the attitude that you should tell people what they should read: what you’re doing isn’t ennobling their mind, it’s teaching them that reading is a chore and an obligation, and that it isn’t fun at all. Scicurious has a good post on the idea of the obligatory book list and how it typically neglects what is engaging for what is high-minded.

Case in point: Darwin’s Origin of Species. It actually is a good, well-written book…for a 19th century audience. Personally, I quite like a good long sentence that goes on for the length of a paragraph, giving detailed discursions into a couple of topics along the way, using words that you just don’t hear in conversation any more. But you’re not a bad person if that isn’t your cup of tea, and really, the pigeon chapters are a hard slog. I don’t recommend it for first year college students because most of them will not enjoy the experience, and my job is to get them enthusiastic enough about science to study it for years.

My philosophy is always to encourage a passion — if you are devoted enough to start devouring books on any topic, eventually you’ll find enjoyable and educational stuff on your own. But the key step is to foster pleasure in reading anything.


  1. rietpluim says

    I had a hard time reading the Origin. Didn’t finish it. The Bible was worse though.

  2. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    But the key step is to foster pleasure in reading anything.

    Yes, yes, and yes!
    If reading is a chore, it isn’t done later in life.

  3. iknklast says

    I enjoyed the Origin, but I never recommend it to my students. They mostly don’t read if they can avoid it, so my reading list tends to be centered around things to interest and instruct. I was not given a list of things by my parents to read; I was given a list of things to not read (including Voltaire, Bertrand Russell, etc) which means I promptly went out and read them.

  4. says

    Obligatory SMBC Reference

    Yep. High-minded instead of entertaining sums up pretty much all school-mandated reading for kids after they hit junior high school (roughly 6th grade). Books you’re too young to understand*, books which are honestly pretty tedious even to an adult but which are “important” (hello, Nathanial Hawthorne!)… meanwhile, all sorts of things which might actually get people to start reading for pleasure are just tossed aside.

    *I had a friend in high school who was legitimately brilliant, but who was going to read all the “great” novels during the summers so that she wouldn’t have to read them later. She can’t remember any of them. She thinks Dickens was a terrible writer — about which she is wrong :P — but can’t say why because she can’t even describe any of the plots beyond a basic one-sentence summary which is usually half a guess. She will never reread any of those books, because she is convinced that — on the basis of her 17-year-old self’s level of understanding — they are uniformly overrated and terrible. What a waste.

  5. says

    I know a working class geezer who learned to read with Conan the Barbarian (and very little help from his teachers). Knowing how important literacy is, he made sure his kids and grandkids learned to read the same way – using entertaining “crap” to learn reading, and keep it fun.

    For me, it was Salamandastron.

  6. says

    Case in point: Darwin’s Origin of Species.

    The Voyage of the Beagle is a whole lot more accessible. It’s almost exciting at times!

  7. lorrita says

    Science fiction of questionable quality, bought from a spinning rack in a grocery store every week by my father, is what addicted me to reading, after the hook was baited with ‘Charlotte’s Web’. I would practically dance on my toes waiting for Dad to finish his copy of ‘Doc Savage’ or ‘Conan the Barbarian’ so that I could scoop it up and dash for my bedroom with a stack of cookies and a glass of milk and a ticket to another world. From there I moved on to Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein and on and on and on.

    I’ve given up trying to read Ulysses. I’m of a mind with Dorothy Parker on that one; after two pages I want to fling it across the room with great force.

  8. says

    I had a genius teacher in high school whose approach to literature was to have us read a book (e.g.: Pride and Prejudice) and then watch a movie “based on” the book. We were then encouraged to research what we wanted about the context of the book and brutally dissect the movie. It was so fun most of us didn’t realize we were also getting lessons in popular culture and research. Great teachers are like ninjas: one day you wake up and feel smarter and think it was your own doing.

  9. The Mellow Monkey says

    Getting an English degree left me with a seething hatred for quite a bit of Literature with a capital L. Shakespeare managed to escape that because I sought it out first on my own for pleasure. I don’t think I was the only one who had this experience either. Once, when asking the librarian for some help when I was writing a paper on Madame Bovary, I so inspired his residual disgust from his undergrad days that he wrote me a paper on just how much he disliked it.

    …even I hadn’t thought it was that tedious.

  10. cgilder says

    My 9y/o is a voracious reader, but right now he’s on an audiobook kick. I figure he’ll switch back to the written word at some point, so I let him download them from the library on the old iPad and have at it.

    Speaking of Pokemon, I was completely resistant to the idea when he started getting I to them about a year ago. But, it was inevitable, so I just rolled with it. And damn if it isn’t one of the best things to happen to him. He normally struggles with ADHD, rage, frustration, and difficulty with empathy, but playing pokemon really brings out his best self. He’s kind and patient with younger kids who are just learning, he loses gracefully, he wins without crowing, and he spends hours in careful thought organizing and evaluating his various decks for possible strategies. He can basically play an entire match in his head, just because he knows his decks verbatim.

    Anyways, it was eye-opening to me, and I’m trying to make sure to follow his lead on things that grab his interest. Our read-aloud books in the evening (me reading to him) tend towards “classics”, but ones I want to read, too! Princess Bride, Once & Future King, Neverending Story, etc.

  11. says

    My pleaure reading is done for pleasure.
    Life is short and money doesn’t grow on trees. I need to know many classics professionally (you can’t get away with being an English teacher without having read more Shakespeare than you like), so that counts as work. If I don’t like a book i intend to read for pleassure then I stop reading.
    Indeed, one of the best things about ebooks is that you can get a sample and decide then if you like it or not.
    My grandma used to be the most disciplined reader. She was once given a book by a neighbour she didn’t like at all because everybidy was cursing and swearing all the time. When asked why she didn’t just drop it she said “because the giver xould ask about how I liked it.” In which case she would have politely lied and said she liked it very much….

  12. says

    My dad’s a university professor and he had the idea of raising us without television. In return for the onerous lack, my sister and I could get a ride to the library pretty much any time we wanted one. Family outings were to the bookstore, where we were sometimes given a $20 and learned to stretch it into a small stack (until I learned about the used books at Goodwill, and the used bookstore 5 blocks away, and started buying books for $0.10 at Goodwill and carrying them to the bookstore and trading them in for $0.75 or a dollar, then going home with a stack of cheap sci-fi). Dad used to wince when I’d come home with “The Destroyer” (I still have them, and keep them on my shelf so I can wince over my complete collection) but by the time I was in high school I often finished reading a new book while walking home from the bookstore. We spent our summers in an out of the way place, without access to a bookstore or a library, so each summer began with a box of stuff to read and ended with us trawling through dad’s shelves of whatever he was working on at the time. Dad was a historian, so that was a wide range of stuff that a kid wouldn’t usually encounter: Voltaire, De Sade, Joinville, Aries, De Tocqueville… An odd mix with Remo Williams but it all went down the hatch.

    One thing I am happy about, regarding texting devices and the internet: young people today can read. They may be incapable of writing but at least half the problem is going well. I remember a period in the 70s when I would encounter kids that grew up with a TV on and no books, who would labor to read a page. Whenever I encounter someone who sniffs at adults reading Harry Potter (I mean, it’s shit, but…) I remind myself of “The Destroyer” and smile.

  13. Artor says

    I have no memory of ever not being able to read. I don’t know when I started, but it was very early. I devoured Bullfinch’s Mythology somewhere around age 8. I read thick history tomes for enjoyment as a teenager, and was reminded how voracious I was when I moved during college. I packed up all my books, and they filled a large appliance box, every one of which I’d read at least once. The good ones many times.

  14. says

    I’m reminded of my grandfather’s bookshelves. James Jeans next to a Hopalong Cassidy novel, next to a text-book on fluid mechanics, next to Jules Verne, Gerald Durrel, Marx, the Brontës, James Michener, Dickens, Arthur Ransome… A fantastically jumbled mix of subjects and authors, ‘high-brow’ and ‘low.’ Gawd knows how long it had been there, ’cause it was yellowed when I was a kid, but he had an Aldous Huxley quote, framed, and done in beautiful copper-plate script, pinned to the end of one set of shelves:

    Deprived of their newspapers or a novel, reading-addicts will fall back onto cookery books, on the literature which is wrapped around bottles of patent medicine, on those instructions for keeping the contents crisp which are printed on the outside of boxes of breakfast cereals. On anything.

  15. blf says

    I’ve never really even tried to read Origin, albeit I seem to recall there is a fairly recent annotated edition that’s highly recommended (cannot recall who the editor / annotator is at the moment, however…).

    Another one I never succeeded in completing is The Iliad, despite attempting the highly-regarded translation by Robert Fagles. However, his translation of The Odyssey I did finish: The evening after I bought it (after reading a positive review of the then-new Iliad translation in The Grauniad), I started reading it. It wasn’t until I finished the bottle of vin at around 3am that I realized I had just stayed up much of the night reading a c.3000yo story from cover-to-cover in one sitting.

    Still working on Beowulf (Seamus Heaney’s translation)…

    I could read when I entered kindergarden, thanks to my parents, and one of my earliest memories is leading a self-paced reading group (of other “advanced” readers) in first(? second?) grade. Oddly enough, except for a handful of popular science books plus National Geographic, I cannot really recall what I was reading until my teens, when I read a LOT of Isaac Asimov (not just SF), plus about every SF book in the school library (which is how I found Arthur C Clarke (most memorably), plus a host of others, albeit it wasn’t until University that I encountered Roger Zelazny). And Scientific American, which I convinced my father to subscribe to, especially Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Games column. Also took a crack at The Count of Monte Cristo (don’t recall who the translator was), in a c.1930s edition which, it turned out, had been donated to the library by the head librarian. I remember us having a pleasant discussion about the book (which I was still reading at the time), albeit I only recall one thing now from that discussion: She had read the book cover-to-cover as a young girl.

    And somewhere along the line, I developed a voracious newspaper-reading habit, currently tending to read both The Grauniad and the INYT (the new name for the IHT). Dead-tree editions, can’t stand uglyline / e-borks versions (unreadable, inconvenient, and idiotic).

    Have never gotten into reading Shakespeare, probably because it was required reading at school. To this day, the play I dislike almost irrationally is Julius Caesar, the one we had to read and learn at school. It also took me a long, long, time to like The Hobbit, for the same reason: Required reading at school “poisoned” the book. In fact, I avoided The Lord of the Rings for an amazingly long time due to then-hatred of The Hobbit, until I actually read the books over a long year-end holiday. And discovered I really like LotR (on first reading, have re-read it many times since and still enjoy it).

    Franz Kafka is another one who was “poisoned” for me at school. Weirdly, Animal Farm, 1984, and Brave New World where not “poisoned” despite also being required reading. albeit I currently do not own, and have not re-read, any of them in a long time.

  16. scienceavenger says

    I devoured every science book in my elementary school library by the time I was in 3rd grade. Loved adventure books too. But the horrific reading list forced on me by English teachers killed my love for reading. What high school kid is going to get anything out of “Babbit”, “The Great Gatsy”, “Jane Eyre” or Homer? And Shakespeare? Complete gibberish to this high school brain. I was ready to burn every copy in existence by the time I had “finished” them, which is in scare quotes because it just means I ran my eyes over the words until the end, I couldn’t tell you one thing about the plots.

    I didn’t recover and start reading for pleasure again until my 30’s, and while some of the classics really shined (“Les Miserables”, unabridged, “War and Peace”, Hemmingway, HG Wells, and anything by Ursela LeGuin), I still don’t get what people see in some authors like Dickens. I’ve never been able to finish his works, I always end up half way through realizing I know nothing about the characters and don’t care a whit what happens to them. Different strokes I guess.

    But yeah, English classes ought to have a wide range of books available and allow kids to choose what they want to read. Forcing reading of something completely disinteresting to the student does nothing for anyone involved.

  17. =8)-DX says

    I actually loved the (3rd ed) Origin. Some parts required a bit of concentration, but mostly I was just grinning at all actual anti-evolutionary arguments he was methodically debunking or explaining what would debunk them in the future. It was just total pwnage.

    I’ve kind of reached the conclusion that hard reading can be fun, but also takes quite some effort and so should be well balanced with larger quantities of no-effort reading, stuff that just reads itself.

  18. oualawouzou says

    Adding my two cents…

    I teach literature. Not sure how it translates in the american system, but my students are typically 18-20 years old. Because I must get my whole classes to read at least a few books that are the same for everyone, I do strive to find books that strike a balance between being “engaging” (in the sense of “potentially interesting regardless of one’s prior knowledge or interests”) and “high-minded” (meaning I can actually spend a few hours working on them without running out of stuff to say or do). It’s not that easy.

    I’ve also worked with high school kids who were tasked with reading books that were *way* out of range for the average kid their age. It’s sad. Like The Vicar said, these kids typically end up convinced literature is a load of crap (and they walk into my class a few years later with an ax to grind). But the worst thing was how trivial the work they had to do on those books was. If a book expressing deep existential anguish and a crushing feeling of alienation through the clever use of language and symbolism were used to try to get kids age 14 to understand these concepts, I could recognize the value of that objective, and merely disagree with the material chosen to reach that goal. But in my experience (and contrary to the illustrious Sir Weiner-Smith’s), kids were tasked with, say, writing short summaries of each chapter focusing solely on the “w”s (who/what/where/when/why), without any thought at all being given to the sub-text. So they get the feeling the novel they just read was 200 pages of a girl being mean to everybody around her for pretty much no reasons, becoming meaner and meaner because… because, and finally killing her best friend, because… because she’s a meanie? Yeah, that must be it. Good. But if all you wanted was to assess the kid’s reading comprehension skills, why did you force on him a novel that will turn him off from reading the moment the grades are in?!

    (And for the record, I am firmly convinced literature is literature, with a fair load of crap, a few shining jewels and a metric ton of bland pebbles all mixed together, no matter the genre, the language, the era, etc.)

  19. rvoss says

    After a few attempts to read Origin and failing to get beyond a few chapters, I finally checked out an audio book from the library. Listened to it while driving, twice. Success!

  20. consciousness razor says

    Marcus Ranum:

    One thing I am happy about, regarding texting devices and the internet: young people today can read. They may be incapable of writing but at least half the problem is going well. I remember a period in the 70s when I would encounter kids that grew up with a TV on and no books, who would labor to read a page.

    Yeah. I’m sure much of it’s not as educational as reading some kind of literature, but at least it’s something. I’m doubtful about texting, but the intertubes generally have all sorts of stuff to read, obviously. And of course pictures of cats, cephalopods, etc.

    There are probably lots of studies on it, which I haven’t read, but it does seem like there’s been a noticeable change with younger people, compared to those over forty or so. There are still a lot of younger adults who are illiterate or barely literate, but my impression at least is that it’s getting better.

  21. says

    Sorry. I learned in school that “reading” was a joyless chore that consisted of memorizing rote plot points for Accelerated Reader tests.

  22. says

    There are only about a half dozen books I really insist my kid (and for that matter, my niece and nephew). One of them is “Never Ending Story”, mostly because the constant ‘that’s another story, and will be told another time’ makes for a great writing prompt to get them going on story ideas, and he really needs to work on his writing skills to keep up with his class mates.

    But for the most part, as long as he is reading, I’m happy.

    My niece recently tried to evangelize at me, so I made her a deal. As soon as she sits down and reads the bible cover to cover, I’m happy to sit down with her and let her make her case. At the rate she’s going, that conversation will take place sometime in 2042.

  23. Julian Patel says

    Speaking of Origin, I realize that it’s dated, but is there anything in there that Darwin got flat-out wrong?

  24. says

    Oh, yeah, raiding Goodwill. That’s where I got most of my comic books, and maybe this post was a mistake — I should encourage people to have rarefied tastes and be a bit of a snob about Literature, because when I was a kid, people would just throw out comic books. You’d go to the Goodwill, and there would be this massive unsorted pile of shabbily abused comic books, and you could buy 25 for a dollar. These weren’t collector’s items — they had torn or even missing covers, coffee stains, folded corners, etc. — but we didn’t care. We were getting them to read.

  25. says

    The 1st edition of Origin is pretty good — what he didn’t know, he was vague about. Later editions start getting messier as he tries to rebut critics with additions, and starts alluding to his flatly wrong theory of heredity.

  26. twas brillig (stevem) says

    Another fan of reading the “less than” books: for fun, to be exposed to new ideas, not to increase my library prestige with “great pieces of Literature” only. That is why my tastes are more in the SF&F genre, rather than the Best-Seller-list genre, nor Self-Help (which is NOT D.I.Y. books), nor Mystery/Horror, and absolutely not the pseudoscience paranormal ghost hoaxes. (but I do sometimes read the pseudoscience bunkum as a FORM of SF&F). I read the faux-science as an exercise, to enhance my ability to identify what they got wrong, to test my ‘debunking ability’ (debunkability?). SF&F is much more attractive; for presenting “plausible” ideas, to get me to fabricate how it “might” be accomplished. I find SF&F much more educational than Science Textbooks. SF&F teaches HOW to think, the latter teaches FACTS.

    friend story:
    I have a friend who is also a prolific reader, but is very hard to recommend books to. Especially if one recommends a series. EG Tolkien: We recommended LOTR to him, but he would not buy Fellowship…, then decide if he wanted the rest. He searched bookstore after bookstore for one to get all 3 books at once, so if he liked the first, he could immediately continue with 2 then 3, and if he didn’t like #1, he postulated it would be easier to give away the trilogy rather than only the first book of it. And when he did get the whole LOTR trilogy, he read the entire 1st book in one night, then complained that that it was just a travelogue of this group of people walking from, place to place while not doing much else, just walking. We shook our heads. We talked him into completing the series and he wound up enjoying the story as the action got more profound.

  27. says

    The Bible is one of the least readable shared-world anthologies ever produced, for me. Despite the efforts of English’s greatest quote machine (Tyndale). People always say you should read it before criticising it, so I stick to my simple critique that it needs a strong editor with good continuity skills, and probably seven hundred fewer pages.

    Nineteenth century writing I am comfortable with. Earlier is more difficult, though my theatre background leaves me somewhat familiar with Elizabethan. Origin of Species I found dry and a bit tedious, but Voyage of the Beagle was pretty good.

    Robertson Davies is the bete noire of my high school reading. Gods and fishes but I hated his books.

  28. razzlefrog says

    Okay, so…I don’t ordinarily derail conversations on these threads, especially not interesting ones about books, but I’ll make a rare exception today. Like the majority of us I haven’t really been complaining about the ads around here because up until now they’ve been only a minor nuisance. Today they got so annoying they’re pasting themselves WITHIN the text and hiding parts of the post. When I refresh new ads just reemerge and reposition themselves in no less irritating of a place than their predecessors. If ads were mosquitos buzzing around my head right now they’d be getting a thorough, maybe-slightly-overzealous, beating with the fly swatter.

    PZ, Y U NOT FIX??

  29. Jacob Schmidt says

    I learned to read early (I don’t have any memory of not being able to read), but I hated it until 4th grade, when I came upon some Encyclopedia Brown books. Those I devoured, borrowing as many as I could get my hands on, buying what I couldn’t borrow. After that, I started enjoying reading just to rea, but I hated most books required in school. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was genuinely good; there was a book we read in 8th grade set in the aftermath of the Rebellions of 1837 that was enjoyable, mostly focusing on a farming family that took in an injured rebel trying to flee to the states.

  30. twas brillig (stevem) says

    they had torn or even missing covers

    That was my secret ^-^ for getting cheap magazines: I once learned that magazines could only be on newstand display racks until the end of the issues Month printed on the cover (why sometimes one will see September mags in July). So if a mag is still on the rack at the end of that month: to get refunded, the store only has to return the front cover of the mag; to save the parcel-post weight cost of returning the whole mag. So some stores (looking at 7-11), would have a pile of last months mags with no front covers, that they would then sell (under the counter) for half price (or less). I seem to remember the front-cover-return worked for paperbacks. I had lots of PBs with no front cover.
    [this is all ’70’s knowledge. prolly not actual process no more]

  31. tbp1 says

    Don’t know how else to report this: there is an ad (Indiana Tech) blocking the first paragraph that WILL NOT go way.

  32. chigau (違う) says

    I was in University before I was assigned a book that I hadn’t already read, except for some Shakespeare in highschool.
    (why would anyone read a play?)

  33. consciousness razor says

    That’s where I got most of my comic books, and maybe this post was a mistake — I should encourage people to have rarefied tastes and be a bit of a snob about Literature, because when I was a kid, people would just throw out comic books.

    As I see it, it’s not about rarefied tastes or snobbery. We shouldn’t read just for pleasure or entertainment. That “lesson” shouldn’t be reinforced either, because the arts do (and should do) a lot more than simply entertain us. Try very hard not to look down at them, from your perspective as a scientist.

    Why are kids “forced” to read “great” stuff in school, even if they don’t like it? Hopefully, it’s because some of that stuff is good for them in some way, but of course that’s not always the case. Kids can learn about vocabulary, grammar, rhetoric, narrative, etc. — simply how to communicate effectively to other people, not necessarily in a way that entertains their audiences, since that isn’t always the point. They can also learn about the world and different approaches people have about it, even when it’s fictional. Other parts of the curriculum can fit in here, in all sorts of ways.

    But it’s like eating your vegetables: we shouldn’t accept “I don’t like it” as a reasonable answer. As a biologist, you can say a hell of a lot more about why we ought to eat them anyway. It just isn’t relevant that you don’t like them, and most likely (if you’re like my young niece the other day) you’ve been trained to say you don’t like them, before you’ve even had a taste.

    Writers of course don’t always have the best ideas, because their qualification is simply that they know how to make well-formed sentences (or something like them) and put them together into a larger structure that might be coherent enough for their purposes. But without something minimal like that, you’re just not going to be communicating anything like that, good or bad, to anyone.

  34. daved says

    lorrita@7: Ulysses is the only book I read for a college class where the professor told us straight out to go buy the Cliff Notes (or something similar), just so we could understand it. I will recommend Chapter 8 (I think it’s 8), the “Polyphemus” chapter, which is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.
    (We only had to read the first half of the book for the class, and I never did finish it.)

    That said, I am much of a mind with the other commenters here — I was a voracious reader as a kid, and I read a ton of science fiction, but I wandered all over the place. Some years later, when I was doing a little work with Literacy Volunteers (teaching adults to read), I recognized, as do they, that it’s much easier to get adults to read — and they gain ground faster — if you give them material that interests them, whatever it may be.

  35. razzlefrog says

    I agree with a lot of the comments about some books being absolutely inappropriate for high schoolers. I remember being forced into reading the unabridged version of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and absolutely suffering through it. Never again! Just WHAT my teacher thought I would gain from 15 page descriptions of boring, dry, irrelevant, shit about, for instance, the kinds of buttons on a knight’s coat, is a complete mystery to me. Whoever thought to pay writers by the word in Scott’s day deserves to roast in hell for all eternity as far as I’m concerned.

    Thankfully, crash disasters like that novel didn’t kill the reading flame in me, and I do it somewhat obsessively as an adult.

  36. ruthstl says

    I read everything-Tolstoy in 8th grade (the only kid giving a book report on “Crime and Punishment”, Dickens, the Brontes, Elliot, and Austen. But I hate Faulkner and could never get far in Joyce.

    I have an autistic teen who can do math, but really struggled with reading. We gave her books about math which she enjoyed. She is now into goth horror and fantasy. Her reading level is still below her grade-level, but it is constantly improving.

  37. Menyambal says

    I grew up in a house without a TV, and no set restrictions on reading. I say “set” because there was some stuff just not available, like comic books, but only once did someone refer to my beloved SF as trash. The small-town library didn’t even limit our books – every other kid in town got two childrens books, we got an armload of anything in the library. And somehow I never had any required reading in high school – I would have blazed through a book, even though the assigned books were always rot.

    Yeah, enforced reading has probably backfired worse than any other education program. I used to dislike Shakespeare because everybody said he was so great, but the plays were delivered in a sad, eternal monotone. But when you pick a speech you like, and deliver it with vim, and make it live, it is a lot of fun. The plays still drag, though. (Baz Lurhman’s Romeo + Juliet is an experience, and Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V has some great times.)

    I pushed through some of the great classics, but find it better to read historical fiction around the setting to kind of build up an understanding. I have a copy of Origin, but only read it once.

    I am on my third pass through Brian Green’s Elegant Universe, although string theory is ‘way out of my league. I just slammed it shut on his bockling-up of a rocketry “explanation”, and I know he has a couple of other things wrong, now, so that is my lit-crit project and my only paper book in progress.

    I strongly recommend Project Guttenberg for free downloads of older works. Some of all sorts in there – I read about steam engines, even (an astounding amount of technology and expertise involved, and some fads as well).

    So when I see a troubled second-grader reading a Transformers book instead of the school work, I don’t always take it away. I should praise skill, encourage reading, and try to connect to something real-world.

  38. brett says

    I hated reading Hobbes’ Leviathan, but the translation I found of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War was surprisingly readable – I really got into it, and was bummed when I got to the end and it turns out he didn’t cover the whole thing, It’s why I’ve been meaning to try some of the classics again, when I get the time. You never know what might resonate with you.

  39. Menyambal says

    Something just reminded me of a college English class where we were supposed to collect examples of typos and errors from books. The rest of the class presented about three examples each while whining about how hard the project was. I was sitting there with a stack two feet high and a fire in my eyes, and the professor never called on me – I can’t imagine why.

  40. Rowan vet-tech says

    razzlefrog, PZ is NOT IN CONTROL OF THE ADS.

    On to book series: I, too, am one that likes ‘light’ sci-fi and fantasy for the most part. While I am enjoying working my way through A Wise Man’s Fears, there’s so much intertangling and minor things of great import and major things of no import that I can only read small bits at a time. When I read I want to escape, not keep 3,000 things in mind at all times. I read LOTR by myself for the first time when I was 9 years old and I loved it (and it caused me to get in arguments with my teachers on spelling tests. Colour has a u darn it!), but I also grew up on The Dragonriders of Pern and the Star Wars expanded universe. I still love to re-read the Mercedes Thompson books, and Robin Hobb’s Rainwild Chronicles (because dragons). I like all the books written by Anne Bishop. I love the works of Mercedes Lackey in her Heralds of Valdemar and the Elvenbane (dragons yay!). I recently rediscovered two books from my childhood that I enjoyed a great deal, and have bought physical copies. Invitation to the Game (yay, my first dystopian future novel!) and Tomorrow’s Sphinx (psychic cheetahs AND dystopian future wooooo!).

  41. Rowan vet-tech says

    I am an avid reader and easily go through a 400 page book in a day. That said, the majority of high school books were, for me, absolute bores, chores, and I didn’t read them for the most part. If I can’t get hooked within the first 15 pages, it’s not happening. Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird… they were assigned. I’m 32 and still haven’t read them. Most of the other titles I didn’t read I’ve plain forgotten. I do remember being amused/perplexed by my *Catholic* high school assigning Clan of the Cave Bear as summer reading.

  42. whheydt says

    Let me begin with what my wife and I did with regards to our kids (the younger of the two will be 40 this year)… We had (and still have) a rather large collection of books. Our best estimate is in the 3000 to 5000 range (though my wife has been culling our duplicate and stuff she never intends to ever look at again over the last 2-3 years). While there are a number that are Not Suitable For Young Children (e.g. Gray’s Anatomy), we never forbid them to read *anything* in the house. This was on the basis that, if the themes were too adult for them, they wouldn’t get it and if they got it, they were old enough. We just shelved what we felt were unsuitable on high shelves without saying anything about it.

    As to what I read… Like others, lots of SF. Previously unmentioned by others (at least that I’ve noted) were Dr. Doolittle and “Doc” Savage. My wife and I class much of this as “low class trash”, but we do it with a smile. Something I’ve enjoyed in recent years, when I have a taste for slumming, is Weber’s _Honor Harrington_ books, which our son classifies as “spaceship porn”. (Weber delights in detailing the fate the exact numbers of missiles fired as he destroys entire fleets of starships. He also started out with a totally unworkable model for a government. He later recanted on that.)

  43. whheydt says

    I note that, in various lists of authors in this thread, there is a real stand-out of SF missing…Poul Anderson.

    On a side note regarding him… He once finished (from notes left by Howard) a _Conan_ book (Conan the Rebel). He remarked afterwards that it was very hard to do because he had a lot of trouble writing as badly as Howard did. It is, not surprisingly, one of the best Conan books ever published.

  44. What a Maroon, oblivious says

    (Quick fix for the ads: just highlight the text and you’ll be able to read it over the ads.)

    Another avid reader since childhood. I was partial to fantasy (I went through a period of around eight years where I would read the entire Hobbit/LOTR trilogy every year), but I’d read just about anything in our house that piqued my fancy (one year I brought a book about Chaucer’s England on a beach vacation–I never did understand the concept of “beach reading”). That can be dangerous, though–my father had some popular books on language and linguistics that I read in high school, and that planted a seed that eventually put me on my current career path.

    As for Shakespeare, somehow I managed to avoid having him assigned throughout my schooling, and so it wasn’t till I was in a sublet one summer that I found a copy of his complete works and started reading them. When I’m in the right mood, he’s great reading.

  45. redwood says

    Loved reading as a kid. When I was in the sixth grade I attended a very small school in the Missouri Ozarks that for some reason decided to divide my grade in half and put ten of us together with the fifth-grade class and ten of us in the seventh-grade class. I was in the latter and the teacher would give us a list of spelling words Monday morning for a test on Friday afternoon and spend the rest of the week teaching the older kids. He did let us do book reports for extra credit, though, and by the end of the year I had 110 of them while the next highest amount was 15. I loved the Tarzan books of Edgar Rice Burroughs and then tried re-reading them a few years ago–big mistake. Very poor writing, lots of racism.
    I ended up being an English major in college and found lots to like (Joyce, Shakespeare, Stephen Crane) and dislike (Henry James, Hardy, Dickens), most of the classics. I’m now in a book club and we’ve read some of those classics I disliked and I’ve found there weren’t quite so bad. I had never read Jane Austen and now adore her. Now I read a lot of science fiction (especially space opera but also military), fantasy and historical fiction. If you like adventure, you can’t go wrong with C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series, Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe and Uthred, and my all-time favorite, Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser.

  46. sumdum says

    I don’t know when I statted reading but it must’ve been early, I named my stuffed animal ‘Bibio’ after ‘biblotheek’, ‘library’ in dutch. Some of my favorite books were children’s educational books about past civilisations like the old Roman empire, ancient Egypt or pre-columbian America. I think reading about them and their different gods laid the foundation for my atheism.

  47. says

    I actually like high-minded literary fiction, but I despise “classics”. I read literary fiction because it’s good, not because it gives me points in cultural sophistication.

  48. says

    I actually generally found myself quite liking the assigned novels from high school, including Harper Lee. Loved SF, fantasy, too, and even some Westerns, though I think that last one was mostly a peculiar artifact of the fact that by the time I got toward the end of high school, I’d mostly exhausted the available libraries’ stock of the former two genres. Got through some more general fiction, too, generally enjoyed it.

    But I have begun to think in retrospect this may have been in part because I was very lucky in the librarians I had stocking those shelves and suggesting stuff. As what I’ve found through a lot of my adult life is a lot more mixed. High-minded/literary type top whatever lists, it tends to be as much miss as hit. Tend not to regret trying, as I do find great reads that way; just have to know when to give up, really.

    But grinding my personal axe: honestly, I have developed over the years a deep suspicion of recommended contemporary ‘literate’ fiction, especially, the stuff that’s been declared current wisdom. The recommendations almost never impress me. There were a few. And it’s been a long desert of mediocre, apart from those. It’s rarely exactly awful, it’s more I just have no idea why everyone’s raving about it. And on that subject: The Life of Pi? What? Just okay. I guess.

    I think my real grumble about that ‘If you haven’t read X you’re a poseur’ attitude the linked article mentions is, though…

    Well, everything. But starting with, I guess: really, the suspicion that what’s on sale here is this notion that wisdom is something you can just subscribe for, like this is the feed. Read the right list, punch the right buttons, right, you’re done…

    … and as I think that author noticed: no, you’re not, necessarily. Quite possibly, you’re incredibly boring, in no way noticeably insightful, so much as noticeably banal. You just got the card punched, that’s all. It’s mistaking the process for substance. Maybe it’s a nice social skill, like the literate parallel to being able to discuss Mad Men around the water cooler with the other fans, and I have to wonder if that’s the best parallel. You’re not wiser. You’ve just joined the right country club.

    And, speaking of, yes, also as noted, the exclusiveness of it. It has to be those titles; these guys know, everyone else is pretending, or you couldn’t possibly get it anywhere else.

    Both those key presumptions are wrong. That these are the only sources of wisdom, or the only really great writing, and that simply reading them must grant you the former, give you credibility to recognize the latter. I will grant: those classics might not be bad places to look. But just as often, you may find yourself as an unbeliever reading any allegedly holy book, and having to tell the true believer: right, if you believe your god wrote that, I regret to inform you it is my opinion your god is at best a forgettable prose stylist, and weaker still in characterization and plot.

  49. photoreceptor says

    Couldn’t agree more with PZ, in fact I have a hard time thinking who could disagree. But being forced to read “serious literature” at school doesn’t necessarily kill your enjoyment for ever (cf. #4). I hated Dickens when I had to do homework and tests, but re-discovered him after I left school. Bleak House is a masterpiece. But I was reading all kinds of parallel stuff – the Beano and Dandy every Saturday (sadly defunct because of changing tastes), and I am proud of asking for Slaughterhouse V as a book prize. My school was very conservative, they refused to give it to me in front of the proud parents – but they handed it to me wrapped in brown paper behind the scenes. Ain’t that quaint. As books that I have never finished, Mason & Dixon by Pynchon holds gold medal, bloody impossible irrespective of the fact I love his stuff. And for post-LOTR emptiness (“what could possibly be better”), try the Gormenghast trilogy. Incomparable.

  50. drst says

    scienceavenger @ 16

    What high school kid is going to get anything out of “Babbit”, “The Great Gatsy”, “Jane Eyre” or Homer? And Shakespeare? Complete gibberish to this high school brain.

    Um, me? I’m not a fan of the first two but I read Jane Eyre avidly (later I became an Austen fan). I enjoyed Shakespeare and classical mythology in high school. I also read “The Color Purple” in high school and it destroyed and rebuilt my brain as to what literature was capable of doing, so I don’t appreciate the implication that a high school student can’t think on that level.

    It’s fine to say those things were gibberish to you or that you personally hated X author, but could we all please not generalize like this? It just turns shaming onto people who actually dig the kind of heavy literature schools often teach. I agree more diversity and different genres in classroom reading would be helpful and that reading is beneficial more so than “reading good books” but it’s okay to love the traditional “good books” too.

  51. JustaTech says

    Rowan @41: Aha! Someone else who’s read Invitation to the Game! Oh, and all the rest of it too.
    I actually found that i liked ‘literary’ stuff better when I read it in class. I could not get through Catcher in the Rye (whiny, boring doufus) or The Tempest by myself. didn’t technically finish Huck Finn (summer reading) because the dialog was really challenging and the library copy I had was missing *lots* of pages due to really poor printing.

    Having a good instructor can make all the difference in really understanding rather than just reading and regurgitating.

    I read voraciously, and was often annoyed in college to find that I was the only person in the class who had actually done all the reading. If it doesn’t matter, don’t assign it! I could have spent that time doing other homework (or fun reading).

  52. drst says


    Yes, I just fucked that up. I totally misread “this” as “the.” My bad. Apologies, scienceavenger.

  53. anteprepro says

    Honestly, I liked a lot of what I was forced to read in school. Song of Solomon, Great Expectations, Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Siddhartha, Things Fall Apart, The Scarlet Letter . I enjoyed all of them. Absolutely loved As I Lay Dying, yet apparently not enough to finally get me to hunt down and read The Sound and the Fury. Didn’t care for most of what we read of Shakespeare, sure, nor The Great Gatsby. And I had mixed feelings about Steinbeck and Hemingway. But I feel like it was good to read them and like most of my required reading was good and ultimately beneficial. I rarely read for pleasure and probably wouldn’t have read if I wasn’t forced to. Perhaps I am one of the rare cases that actually enjoyed and benefited from this practice. Yet God knows it was painful for me: I spent from roughly 3 to 7 every day after high school doing homework and more than half of the time it was for English class, reading the books we were required to read. It was my excuse for not having a social life or extracurricular life to speak of, I suppose. It took a lot of time and energy out of me, so in hindsight, as much as I may have liked the books themselves, I’m not sure how much it was worth the cost.

  54. says

    My own experience as a teen was less about being told what to read and more about told NOT to read something on account of it being “not age-appropriate”. And I’m not talking about “Portnoy’s Complaint” here, either; books that I was told were unsuitable for “kids” (15-16 y.o.) included “An American Tragedy” and “Brothers Karamazov”. America, in general, has an obsession with age-appropriateness. This is not really about sexual or violent themes either, but rather something that stems from the belief that people younger than 20 are required by law to have stupefyingly narrow tastes and have nothing to learn from or enjoy in any work of literature that doesn’t directly tie in to their personal experience as teen. Bottom line, if a book is about anything other than teen angst, don’t read it — that was the message. There is a curious parallel between that and a similar obsession with “kid-friendly” food. Basically, if you are interested in anything other than the literary equivalent of chicken nuggets and pizza, you are either a weirdo or run the risk of damaging your fragile teenage mental constitution.

  55. zmidponk says

    One thing that really annoyed me as a kid was being told that I was ‘too young’ for a book. Never by my parents, but I actually lost count of the number of times I got told that by teachers and librarians. I was pretty quiet and reserved as a kid, but one time that I can recall that I actually got quite angry at an ‘authority figure’ at school was when the school librarian refused to let me take out ‘God Emperor Dune’ from the school library when I was (I think) 13, because it was WAY too advanced for me and that she couldn’t POSSIBLY let me read it. I rather angrily pointed out that I had already read ‘Dune’, ‘Dune Messiah’ and ‘Children of Dune’, really rather enjoyed them, and would find what happened when Leto’s metamorphosis advanced to the sandworm stage much more interesting than seeing what happened when Spot ran after the bloody ball. Of course, me being a kid, at the time, that did lead to a little bit of detention – but, after I explained to my parents exactly why I was getting detention, I suddenly found a brand new copy of it mysteriously appear on my bedside table.

  56. magistramarla says

    I learned to read on Black Beauty, and had finished it by the time I was 6 years old.
    When I was 11, I saved up my change to buy the Scholastic Books Classics,
    And had read most of them by the time I got to high school. I actually loved Nathaniel Hawthorne, Poet, Dickens and Shakespeare. My favorites were the Bronte sisters, especially JaneEyre. I grew up as a lonely kid with an abusive mother, and books were my best friends. I emphasized with Jane, and must have read the book at least once a year until college. I’ve even reread it several times as an adult and both JaneEyre and Wuthering Heights are on my kindle.

  57. says

    @#56, Amused

    My own experience as a teen was less about being told what to read and more about told NOT to read something on account of it being “not age-appropriate”. And I’m not talking about “Portnoy’s Complaint” here, either; books that I was told were unsuitable for “kids” (15-16 y.o.) included “An American Tragedy” and “Brothers Karamazov”.

    Part of that is misguided (An American Tragedy? Are you kidding me? That was considered kind of puerile and simplistic and beneath the level of adult minds when it first appeared — I’ve read some of the reviews, in addition to being tedious) but I think there is something to be said for that. Every child is different, of course, but there are books which are written by adults, for adults, and children don’t really have the perspective to appreciate them. In point of fact, The Brothers Karamazov is one such book; a retired literature professor of my acquaintance says he’s making a second attempt to read it — in his sixties — and only now does he feel like he really understands the outlook.

    (That said, keeping kids from reading books as in comment 57 is nearly always misguided. I still think my friend I mentioned back in comment 4 made a serious mistake by trying to read The Western Canon in high school, but that was because she was motivated by the wrong reasoning — she wanted to have read The Western Canon, she wasn’t interested in the books themselves. If there’s a kid who genuinely wants to read, say, Great Expectations — yecch — out of a genuine desire to read the book then they should be permitted to do so.)

  58. Anne Fenwick says

    I’ve had to read books which were tedious for research purposes, along with a vast quantity of documents which are either harrowing or with which I violently disagree. None of those things are fun, though some are rewarding. When I’m on the trail of something, I’ll happily track it through thick and thin. But the process does leave me in no doubt as to the difference between reading for pleasure and reading because I should (for whatever definition of should).

  59. happyrabo says

    I’ve not read Origin and in addition I’m a complete layperson when it comes to biology. But it’s on my summer reading list. Not because of “should” but because I’m going to the Galapagos this fall in my first real trip outside the country, and I want to be able to recognize and photograph some of the descendants of Darwin’s finches. Also, I like learning things.

  60. Anne Fenwick says

    @66 happyrabo – Voyage of the Beagle would get my highest, unreserved recommendation + it has the advantage of being short.

  61. opposablethumbs says

    Marcus Ranum #8

    Great teachers are like ninjas: one day you wake up and feel smarter and think it was your own doing.

    Beautifully put. Though I know I must have had some good teachers, I suspect that if I’ve learned anything it was mostly down to my mum (scientist by profession, polymath by inclination). How lucky I was – far luckier than I knew – to grow up in a house full of books on every subject under the sun. ( Including loads of pulp sci-fi, of course! :-) )

  62. roachiesmom says

    The Mellow Monkey @ 9, that was my experience, too.

    I’ve always been a voracious reader. That kid whose stack of library books was huge…every single week. Who took/takes a book and a spare (or two) everywhere. The one with no other friends than books. Until my ex sold the house out from under us years ago, and I couldn’t get everything out in time, I actually still owned nearly every book that had ever come into my possession (a finished basement’s worth plus some.) I have a lifetime of annoying everyone around me by also reading very fast, and by being able to tell them what was going on with both the book I was reading and the TV show I was ‘watching’ simultaneously at any given time.

    I did end up with a bigger Pokemon-related collection than the kids had during our phase with that.

  63. nemistenem says

    I also learned to love reading at a young age – thanks again, mom! Also read a lot of ERB, loved the original Tarzan, Lost Continent, Mad King among many others – PZ you remind me of “The Mucker!”

  64. Lofty says

    I got in to trouble in the first year of school, I kept putting cursive tails on the letters we were supposed to be copying off the blackboard and learning. I was bored, alphabet learning was so last year.

  65. cgilder says

    I was lucky enough to go to a high school where senior English electives included “American Southern Literature” and “Russian Literature”, so that was pretty awesome. (I took Russian Lit, in addition to regular AP English) It was actually my first taste of university-level workload since fitting in Crime & Punishment, Anna Karinina, Dead Souls, The Cherry Orchard, and fuckton of short stories in one semester required quite a few pages every night. And yes, some high school students are perfectly capable of discussing Dostoyevsky’s themes within the framework of French social utilitarianism and Nietzche’s superman. I can totally see how it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and while I devoured Crime & Punishment, Anna Karinina was more than a bit of a slog, even though I had read it already in 8th or 9th grade. I don’t know what my perceptions would be like if I had been surrounded by girls who hated their assignments, since my grade was small enough that those of us in honors/ap classes tended to end up together all the time.

    I’d like to think I’d still have found “the classics” and enjoyed them, even if I tend towards fictional fluff right now (3 small children mean I have no intellectual energy for “deep thought” literature. Maybe someday soon.)

  66. mildlymagnificent says

    Some years later, when I was doing a little work with Literacy Volunteers (teaching adults to read), I recognized, as do they, that it’s much easier to get adults to read — and they gain ground faster — if you give them material that interests them, whatever it may be.

    A lot of families make a related but not obviously equivalent mistake with young readers, especially those who struggle a bit. I’ve almost given up trying to explain to parents that “reading” at night should not be restricted to a 5 year old hesitantly sounding out a set reader. They can understand far more than they can read for themselves, so parents should read aloud, at normal speed, books and stories that kids would like to be able to read for themselves if only they could. They can hesitate and stumble through fat cats flat on mats for 10 minutes as homework and then listen to an engaging or exciting story told to them by a parent later.

    As for school, I hated Richard 3rd by the end of the 2 whole years it was on the list. We had it for 2 years straight, years 9 & 10, and we had to watch that dreadful Olivier film performance in both years. Shudder. Midsummer Night’s Dream was the other option for one of those years but we were in the ‘A’ stream so we had to do the ‘serious’ stuff. And for the “should read” category? The wisers and betters of the education system decreed that the yr 9 English curriculum should include a typical “boys” book for the girls and a “girls” book for the boys. We got H Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines. Anyone complaining about Dickens at high school should count themselves lucky. It was bloody awful. I presume this book and this approach died out in the mid to late 60s curriculum redevelopments. (I’d left high school at the end of 64.)

    Me. I was one of those kids who could read a newspaper when I was in Reception class – and I read anything and everything I could lay my hands on thereafter. A cereal packet and sauce bottle label reader par excellence. One category I loved which I haven’t seen mentioned, encyclopedias, dictionaries and atlases. I could lose myself for hours digging and delving into those. Being the 50s and 60s, my parents didn’t worry about us going to the city by ourselves (alone or taking the neighbours’ younger kids with us) so we regularly took the bus to the State Children’s Library and came home with whatever the maximum number of books was that we were allowed.

  67. otrame says

    Reminds me of a story a teacher of “juvenile delinquents” (remember when they were called that?) told of trying to teach those kids to read. He agreed with you, PZ, that what you read isn’t nearly as important as that you are reading. He encouraged them to read all sorts of things, including comics and (IIRC) Playboy. One kid asked what his favorite book was and he said The Scarlett Letter. The kid asked what it was about and he explained about Hester Prynne and her baby. The kid said, “Oh, she’s a whore.” So he decided to read the book. He had to work at it. He was barely literate. But he kept at it. It took several months. But at the end, he told the teacher, “The woman in that book. She weren’t no whore.”

    Made me tear up when the teacher told it and has just now.

  68. says

    I picked up Origin because I’d heard it was an easy read, and so far it’s an easy read by the standards of 19th-century science writing.

    Vicar @ 4

    She will never reread any of those books, because she is convinced that — on the basis of her 17-year-old self’s level of understanding — they are uniformly overrated and terrible. What a waste.

    I read Catcher in the Rye too young — though only by a year or two, I think — to properly appreciate it. Now, pace Douglas Hofstadter, I’m too old, and have been for a couple of decades. I didn’t read it during the window because I’d read it, and found it overrated.

    I liked One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at about the same age, though.

  69. Al Dente says

    I had to read Moby Dick in school and I hated it. When I was in my thirties, upon the recommendation of someone whose literary taste I trust, I read it again. I loved it and reread it every ten years. On the other hand Silas Marner had not improved with age. I loathed it in school and I loathed it twenty years later.

  70. Menyambal says

    Encyclopedias, yeah. In one high-school English class I used to sit in the back and snake an encyclopedia off the shelf. I could sit there reading it, keeping one ear on the class, and only speak up when the whole class was stumped on something I had learned years before. The teacher, God love her, let me be. (My downfall was diagramming sentences – I never cared for that and she graded tough.)

  71. nobonobo says

    My mother taught me to read before I went to public school. I never thanked her enough for opening the world to me.

  72. says

    I was an early — and apparently self-taught — reader, and from the earliest I can remember, I’ve been devouring just about anything I can get my paws on.

    I’d get in trouble with teachers regarding assigned reading, for the horrible crime of reading ahead.

    I’m currently in the middle of the “Divergent” trilogy, and enjoying it quite a bit. I’m deliberately trying to slow down and savor the books instead of “scarfing them down”.

    Reading is also one of my healthier coping methods. Actually, it’s probably my healthiest coping method. When I’m in one of those really bad long-term head-spaces, give me a book or, better yet, a series of books to focus on. Get me out of my head and into something that doesn’t require a lot of thought or effort. This is how the “Twilight” saga literally saved my life. My obsessive need to know what happened next overrode my desire to stop living. (And the bad writing, and the Mormon morality, and the blatant abuse, and the portrayal of said abuse as “romantic”, but those are whole other topics.)

  73. unclefrogy says

    me and reading is interesting. was more clever than smart when I was very young. The school gave everyone and eye test every year at no other time do I remember taking an eye test that was different until I was in high school. The test consisted of telling the grownup who was giving the test which way a capital E was pointing. I new I had to pass this test , I could not really see the E very clearly all the time but I could tell which way it was pointing because it was darker on the opposite side even as a complete blur. I passed the test! and no one new that I was not seeing things so clearly. The result was reading was very hard work and not something I really enjoyed very much.
    I do not remember when I got glasses but I did and have enjoyed reading much more ever since.
    I had summer school between grammar school and high school and had to read a book for the English requirement they did not specify any book but I chose Homer the Odyssey because it was supposed to be important and was enthralled. I have read some of the classics and they are often very good though sometimes hard to read.
    I do like many writers and types of literature but give me a good mystery and I will be gone or a while, I can’t recommend Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest too strongly. It is a classic for good reason.
    because of my early experience I have never read obsessively but read I do and enjoy the hell out of it! I am reading (and writing) right now
    I would like to have the time to read I had when I was younger that would be luxury indeed.
    uncle frogy

  74. favog says

    Several of you have commented on not being able to remember being unable to read. I’m not one of you, on that score anyway. I remember my older cousin coming home from her first reading lessons, and knowing I was next in a year or so, I wanted to know what she had to do. So she explained reading to me … and I was terrified. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do that. And I expected misery. I still remember my feeling when the dread day came … and it was so easy. I expected to be the worst reader in class, turned out I was the best. I hadn’t even gotten over that rush before I realized that there was so much information and entertainment waiting for me, and all I had to do was open a book and open my eyes. It would just happen.

    Now I can’t go anywhere without my reading material, it’s my talisman to protect me from the evil of being unexpectedly stuck somewhere with nothing to interest me. The day I had to call an ambulance to take me to the hospital, and adrenaline alone was keeping me from lapsing into shock from blood loss, I spent the time waiting for the EMTs to arrive gathering books, because I didn’t know how long I’d be stuck there. That’s right, my life was on the line, but realizing there was nothing more I could do about that anyway, I calmly pushed that aside and addressed the issue I could do something about — having enough to read.

  75. Okidemia says

    Amused #56

    My own experience as a teen was less about being told what to read and more about told NOT to read something on account of it being “not age-appropriate”.

    That’s interesting, because that’s happening to us from “the other side”. We don’t really have any very specific reason beyond “you’d be less appreciative of the book, because you’re somewhat too young”.
    Our daughter is smart enough to ask us after she’s actually read the book(s).
    The issue is minor when it comes to books about –sorry, I’m too old for this one- falling in love with a vampire or a werewolf, where intended readership is only slightly older than her current age.
    But the issue is actually also minor when it comes to books like The Diary of a Young Girl, which she read at 8 despite our advice to wait some more years. We took an opportunity to discuss about the subject a bit deeper, to realise that her reading was still sort of superficial (we never had the opportunity to discuss WWII and its abominations beforehand yet). We told her that she’ll understand more about it when she’ll read it again.

    She’s absolutely not objecting to re-read books, that’s why we feel ‘safe’ despite her bypassing our reading advices, and there’s no book home that would be completely unappropriate (despite the fact that I have no idea about what this means actually).

  76. paladin1969 says

    My 14 year old reads YA Dystopia right now. And that’s great. I want him to read, period – how I feel about the material is unimportant. When I was his age I read The Simalrillion. I also read Fritz Leiber, William Gibson and as may comics as I could get my hands on. To this day, I am a vorcacious reader. And I will want the same for my toddler. Whatever he wants to read I will do whatever I can to encourage.