“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it.” –William Faulkner–
I don’t even like Faulkner. I am an English teacher, and I don’t like Faulkner. I own it. His writing style is too dense for my preference, and that’s OK. It’s a beautiful thing to have the freedom to read whatever we want and have an opinion on it. But the bottom line is that we’re reading.
Because we don’t simply read for reading’s sake. And if you think that’s what you’re doing when you read, well, you’re wrong. When we read — whether we acknowledge it or not — we absorb. We absorb new-to-us diction, a variety of phrasing and sentence structures, unique narrative styles, and I could go on and on. HOW COOL IS IT TO READ AN AWESOME BOOK AND BE SUBCONSCIOUSLY LEARNING AT THE SAME TIME? Love that. My poor (lucky) students get to hear me rant about that all the time. When students tell me oh, I HATE reading, I take on the challenge to find something they’ll like. And I take it very personally. I WILL FIND SOMETHING GOSH DARN IT JUST GIVE ME A LITTLE TIME (and maybe tell me the last movie you watched and really liked because I’ve found that to be quite helpful).
I like the Faulkner quote because it is a clear challenge for us. Do you write? Do you blog? If you do either but don’t find the time to read, I think Faulkner would call you a hypocrite — an unskilled hypocrite. I think he speaks truth when he says that to “see how [writers] do it,” you must read. Read to become a better reader, yes, of course.
But read to become a better writer.
But I’d like to take the Faulkner quote one (crazy) step further: Do you interact with other humans? Do you have a pulse? If either question applies to you, then you should read.
Oh, but you don’t have time to read. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. (Excuse my while I finish dry heaving.)
That’s ridiculous. Of course you do. If you want to read, you have time to do it. 15 minutes before bed is all it takes. The sleep research even tells us what a great idea it is: reading before bed (on a print book, not a screen), helps communicate to your brain that it’s time to go to sleep land. How lovely!
If you do actually want to read, here’s what I do know: we as humans are really good at making time for what we want to do. (Like mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. OMG, an hour has passed — what is my life.)
But what if you don’t want to read because — gasp — you don’t like reading? Then I’d like to issue an apology (something I’ve done every blog post so far: here, and here) on behalf of your parents and the Literary Prude English Teachers of America (LPETA) . I am betting that some of you weren’t taught that reading is something to do for pleasure. Or maybe your schedule was kept so busy (for your college resume, amiright?) that by the time your head hit the pillow, you were out. Or maybe you had English teachers and professors who refused to release their talons from the “classics” (you know, the ones that the students hate or don’t even read — or the ones where they think just squeezing in some SparkNotes for those pesky reading check quizzes will suffice). Now there’s nothing wrong with the classics, don’t get me wrong. But if that’s all the students get? Yeah, good luck getting them to be lifelong readers. One size does NOT fit all.
Being an English teacher myself, I think I’m allowed to say that it’s stupid and antiquated to think that literary fiction (i.e., the classics) is the only kind “worthy” to be taught in schools. Come on, English teachers, stop being pretentious, literary prudes, and live a little! It’s OK for students to also read commercial fiction (I see you, literary prude, who noticed that split infinitive). It’s not the end of the world. If we teach only literary fiction, most of which is — let’s be honest — kinda boring, what is the takeaway for students? That most books are kinda boring. WHAT A DISSERVICE THIS IS TO THE HUMAN RACE.
May I admit something to you? That pretentious, literary-prude teacher I spoke of? That was me. That was me for the first few years of my naive teaching career. I’m embarrassed, but looking back, I see that I was just trying to be one of the Literary Prude English Teachers of America (i.e., compensating probably for my own insecurities). I was the English teacher who would scoff at commercial fiction, trying to convince my students that only scum of the earth read it and that The Scarlet Letter was God’s gift to the literary world (I can’t stand The Scarlet Letter, BTW). But the worst part of it all? Even as I was basking in my English Teacher Pretension, I wasn’t reading. Not really, anyway. I read the books my students were required to read but not much else. Well gosh, that’s embarrassing.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”Stephen King
So whoever you are — student, novelist, blogger, adult, teacher, or any other kind of human — support your local library, pick up a book (or 7) for free, and read. Let’s read to make ourselves better. Let’s read to make others better. Let’s read books that are uncomfortable to us. “Read, read, read,” as Faulkner simply (for once, might I add) states.
So if you’re wondering where to start, here’s an aside of some of my favorite book recommendations, organized by genre:
- YA/adult fiction: Beartown, Fredrick Backman
- Historical fiction: All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
- Non-fiction/writing: Writing with Style, John Trimble
- Non-fiction/science/humor: Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, Mary Roach
- Poetry: Felicity, Mary Oliver
- Graphic novel: Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
- Short stories: Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri
- Classic lit.: Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
- YA: Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
- Adult fiction: A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
- Memoir: Educated, Tara Westover
- Novel in verse: Long Way Down, Jason Reynolds
I hold firmly to the belief that if you are a human, there is a book out there that you will enjoy. Maybe it’s at a lower reading level. Maybe it’s a graphic novel. Maybe it’s a novel in verse (lots of white space!). Maybe it’s young adult fiction and you’re . . . fifty. Maybe, as Faulkner recognizes, it’s trash. But it’s there. And, man, what a world opens when you get to dive into a good book. There truly is nothing like it.
So get off your phone, and find it. Consider it an adventure! A journey to a new world! It will be fun! Do it! (And then friend me on Goodreads.)
~~What I’m currently reading: (1) A Curse So Dark and Lonely, Brigid Kemmerer and (2) How Not to Die, Michael Greger~~