Monday, August 30, 2010

I hate reading!!

This is a sentence every literature professor hates hearing. I can torture my students with endless lab assignments, written exercises in their workbooks, oral presentations that need to be prepared in their free time, and all kinds of boring, time-consuming activities. They bear everything patiently and almost never complain. When, however, I mention that we will be reading something, a collective moan of "I hate reading!" is the most frequent response I get. The best way of having students drop the class at the beginning of the semester is by announcing that there will be a lot of reading.

The funny thing is that most of them don't really hate reading. When we start reading texts, they obviously enjoy it. Most students offer really interesting, original interpretations of texts, and the ensuing discussions are always lively and exciting. In a way, it feels like they say they hate reading because it's the expected, acceptable reaction.

The anti-reading, anti-intellectual propaganda in this country is very strong. People who like to read appear in TV shows as objects of ridicule. They always look strange, have poor hygiene, and their personal lives are miserable to non-existent. Often, their bookishness leads them directly to madness. (One example, is Detective Goren of Law and Order: CI, whose favorite way of spending his free time is to go to the library and who suffers from one mental breakdown after another. Need I mention that this character has no personal life whatsoever?)

Since being an intellectual, well-read person is presented as unattractive and weird, the younger generation feels obligated to profess an intense hatred of reading. As a result, they get all their information from stupid TV shows that offer nothing but endless streams of propaganda.


BenYitzhak said...

A love of reading (and Dostoevsky) led me to make the worst decision of my life: being a German Literature major. I nearly failed out of college.

feMOMhist said...

don't worry. they all hate history as well. I blame high school :)

Izgad said...

If I did not have books in my life, I would have gone insane years ago. It would mean dealing with people. :p

eric said...

An interesting parallel: kids in this country are propagandized to hate spinach, even though some may love it. I remember professing my love for spinach to my fellow first-graders, and seeing their faces scrunch up in faux-disgust. I was well on my way to out-of-the-closet nerd-dom then: I see the same face on my fellow adults when I tell them I'm a reader.

MPMR said...

They all hate math, too.

Well, moreso than hate is that they believe they can't do it which turns into hate and fear.

The number one response upon hearing that I am a mathematician is, "Oh, I'm terrible at math."

Roberto said...

Their hatred of both math and reading is not their fault. Teachers are currently trying to make everything apply to the students and end up missing what's important. Math becomes "how can I use this formula?" Reading becomes "what does this symbol mean?" Both are boring questions to any expert in either field.

I know many kids who claim to absolutely loathe reading, but don't know what they mean by that. It's really the school they hate. Those same kids have professed a love for books by Steinbeck and plays by Racine. Racine! They've given me valid arguments on why C. S. Lewis is not their cup of tea or how To Kill a Mockingbird could have been better or why Henry James is not vital enough for them. These are the kids who "hate" reading. The irony!

Another less related story: My illiterate friend was always afraid of the theater because he thought it was for highbrow well-read intellectuals. Against his will, I took him to a Beckett production. He came back two weeks late asking if he could accompany me to a showing of Hamlet.

It's the image, not the act. You can't hate reading. Reading is who we are.

Anonymous said...

I have a strong hunch that many people believe that they hate reading because of the kind of reading, and reading comprehension exercises, they were forced to do in elementary and middle school.

When given an opportunity to contribute creatively to a real discussion about a text at their real ability level, about something they're probably interested in (if they've signed up for a class in the first place), it's no surprise that they turn out to actually enjoy reading.

Beth Keenan said...

I am a student myself and I can honestly say I hate reading. I like school and love to learn but absolutely hate to read. I only like harry potter... I don't know why, but it is the only book i've ever read and liked. I would love, love, to find a book that I couldn't put down. I love looking at covers, but once I open the book and I forced to confront those words, it all goes downhill and that book quickly gets closed, after an unsuccessful attempt to love reading through pages of words.

Clarissa said...

But how do you learn if it isn't through reading?

And another question: is it just books that you don't like to read? How about reading online? Blogs, Facebook pages, etc.?