J A Garrett

Curiously nerdy posts.

Saving literacy, one person at a time.

Everywhere I go, and to most people I meet and talk to these days, I often hear the same thing over and over when I bring up how much I enjoy a good book.

“I don’t read, really.”

“Meh, I haven’t read anything since I got out of high school/college.”

“I wish I had more time, but you know? I’d rather watch the movie version when it comes out.”

One of the oldest, simplest, and most versatile of pursuits is going out of fashion for most people, in this day and age. And who can blame them, really? In an era of ubiquitous cell phones, tablets, rush hour traffic, long hours at work, facebook, twitter, and a myriad of other sources that all vie for what little attention span we have left over, it’s not exactly a shock. Most of us aren’t even afforded a quiet corner where we can crack open a book and simply read, whether our main goal was to learn something, or simply be entertained with our own imaginations.

Book stores have felt this pain, too. Borders is gone. Barnes and Noble is limping along, with Books A Million not far behind. Literacy, by and large, seems doomed.

Except… not. While books themselves aren’t getting nearly as much love as they used to, Amazon’s kindle devices are their #1 selling item. The Nook is also notably popular. Not to mention anyone with an Android/iPhone has access to… wait for it…kindle software.

So there’s tremendous demand for programs that let you read… but not a demand for reading itself? It’s enough to make your head explode.

I have a different theory on this from most folks I know. I think there’s still plenty of non-readers who can easily be changed into readers. Their big challenge is simple: they’re not being matched with books that they enjoy. And since they don’t have enough passion or motivation to fix this problem for themselves, it’s up to people like us, the avid readers, to size them up and make a killer suggestion for a book that will suck them in, and remind them why a good book trumps just about anything else when it comes to entertainment.

I think I realized this because of my own path through life. As an English/creative writing major for my Bachelor’s Degree, I read a lot of different books. Even though I wasn’t a literature major, I was still knee deep in reading, at a clip of about a classic novel a week. And I’m not even going to lie, most of it was not for me. I found it boring, dated, or simply not a match for what engages me. I think as a whole, most English/Literature classes do a fantastic job of killing the desire to read in a lot of college students. We read books that bore us, and then more books that we think are a step above toilet paper, and maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll find one that’s actually engaging to us. But that’s not enough to motivate anyone to go out and look for more on their own. I was definitely in that spot, even though I was in the middle of writing my first novel at the time. Seems ironic, impossible even, but I’m sure there’s no shortage of college students out there with a similar story.

In my senior year, I was saved by a dear friend of mine, who kept urging me to read this fantasy series that she swore by. I gave her many of the same excuses I started this post with, but eventually, I caved and borrowed her worn copy, with a cracked spine, and faded cover. It looked kind of like this, and probably seems familiar to most HBO fans.

Long story short, I blazed through this novel, and its two sequels in the span of about two weeks. Whenever I wasn’t knee deep in homework, I could be found on a bench somewhere, sneaking in 15 pages before class. Or sleeping with it, instead of going out looking to get laid like my roommates.

Without getting into how great A Song of Ice and Fire is as a series, because it definitely is, I can definitely say my friend salvaged my love of reading. With a single, perfect recommendation. And even though I am obviously a bit more into it than most, what with also liking to write books in addition to reading them, I think a lot of people can be lulled back into reading for fun.

I can point to two specific examples in my own life where this worked.

– One of my hobbies is PC/console gaming, and I am actually an administrator within a gaming community of like-minded people. So naturally, I spend a fair amount of time with people who really would rather not be bothered at the thought of reading, except for the stats on their cool new magic sword, or settings for a new multiplayer session.

One of my best friends within the community is a guy named Scott. He’s a graphic designer for a multimedia company by day, and an avid gamer and party guy by night. Depending on the season, you can catch him sporting a mohawk in a different neon color, and going to ska/punk/metal shows whenever there’s one in town. He doesn’t exactly fit the profile for a bookworm.

But he knows I’m an aspiring author, and also a megafan of reading in general. So it was only a half surprise when he came to me a few months ago, and asked for a reading recommendation. Winter was coming, he explained, and he needed something to read while he rides the train to work every morning. I knew this was an important decision to make, if I was going to make reading fun for him. I assessed what I knew about him.

– He likes fantasy, since he was an avid World of Warcraft player, and also enjoyed playing Dungeons and Dragons with me on occasion.

– He also enjoys violence and a lot of action.

– He has a very dark, dry sense of humor. He grew up in a British family that immigrated over, so that’s no surprise.

So I recommended The Blade Itself, Joe Abercrombie’s stellar debut novel.

When I read it, it jumped out at me as being the next logical progression to George R.R. Martin’s books, in all honesty. The gritty themes were there: the violence, the sex, the characters with varying motivations, none of which is to simply save the day… with a nice little dash of British humor thrown in. It’s a truly stellar book, and honestly, I make sure to buy all of Abercrombie’s novels the day they’re released.

Fast forward to today, when he told me that he’s now reading the last novel of the trilogy, and intends to read everything the author has ever written. Success!

– The other instance is actually my mom. She used to read a lot, but gradually her evenings transformed into watching whatever came on HGTV or Food Network, and then going to bed. Something felt off with that, since her reading to me when I was a kid was part of how I learned to read in the first place, and where I learned to truly enjoy it.

So while I was in Barnes and Noble, Christmas shopping for myself a little bit between other store runs, I found a new entry into Barnes and Noble’s truly awesome collection of leatherbound classics.

One of her favorite series of books ever, and also among the ones she used to read to me. I got her other gifts for Christmas, including the complete Dick Van Dyke show on DVD, but this simple little book ended up being her favorite thing I gave her, and she blew through it long before she even finished the first disc of the DVD set. Now she’s reading other novels I suggest, and also ones of her own choosing. Her love of reading was awakened once more, thanks to a strategic Christmas gift. Mission accomplished.

These are just two examples of ways I’ve gotten people in my own life to read more. I have more instances than that, but I don’t want to go on forever. But I do look forward to enlarging this list on a monthly basis.

Am I saying that everyone has a reader inside them, just waiting to be unleashed? Sadly not. I know some people just don’t enjoy it, for whatever reason. But in many, many people, there’s a reader waiting to be freed, even if they themselves don’t know it yet. It’s just on us to match them with their ideal mate of a book.

So next time you read a book and think “Hm, this person I know would love this book, if they read it. But they’re not much of a reader,” go ahead and recommend it anyway. And if you own a hard copy of said book, just lend it to them when you’re finished. That’s what books are meant for… not to sit on a shelf, but to be handed out and used.

Let’s save literacy in those we love, one case at a time.


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This entry was posted on January 30, 2013 by in Book recommendations, Books, Literacy.
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