"I DON'T READ."
As I travel around North Texas doing book signings, it's a rare day that some customer doesn't answer my sales pitch with some variation on those three words. And every time I hear it, it's like a dagger to my heart. I LOVE to read. I read constantly. I have read, on average, some fifty books or more a year for my entire adult life. I often have two or three going at once, everything from a huge anthology of human atrocities (THE GREAT BIG BOOK OF HORRIBLE THINGS) to a biography of some figure I admire (CAESAR: THE LIFE OF A COLOSSUS) to a collection of my favorite comic strips (THE FUZZY BUNCH). Anytime I am sitting still and not on a computer, I open a book. I keep one next to the tub, another next to the toilet, yet another on my desk at work. If I make a road trip, I have one in the car so I can read over lunch, or dinner, or breakfast. When I go on vacation, I always take a book or two with me. I cannot conceive of life without books. Neither should you.
"But I don't like to read!" some people say. Do it anyway. "Reading is hard!" Yes, it is, but there is no other activity that will open as many doors in life as the ability to read well. And you can't open those doors by being a resentful, I-only-do-this-because-I-have-to reader. You have to reach into yourself and tap into a love of reading. Being a lifelong reader is the first step to being a lifelong learner. Yes, you can learn in other ways and many do. But no other activity exposes you to a broader, more eclectic range of knowledge than reading. Reading is the gateway that will take you to destinations you can't even begin to dream of.
I recognize that there are physical and mental issues that can make reading difficult, from poor eyesight to processing disorders like dyslexia. (As a father of twin dyslexic daughters, I am VERY aware of that last!) But reading is a learned skill, and even dyslexics can earn it. Both my daughters can read well and one of them has become an avid reader. As a teacher, I tell my students that cultivating a love of reading will take them further in life than any other activity they can learn in school. Written information is the key to virtually every academic discipline, and being able to read quickly and proficiently is the baseline skill on which virtually all other skills depend.
How can I learn to love reading when I don't even LIKE to read? I get this question from students pretty often, and also from adults. My first suggestion is find a topic you CARE about. You like cars? Start with automobile manuals, or maybe a biography of your favorite racecar driver, or a history of NASCAR. Love war movies? Start reading biographies of some of history's greatest warriors. You think dinosaurs are cool? Try reading some of the great publications on those giant reptiles by leading paleontologists! The thing is, there are books out there about EVERYTHING. There are books arguing the case for God, and books arguing that He never existed. There are books about people and books about animals. There are books about love and books about sex (and some that deal with both!). The point is, whatever topics you find interesting, somewhere out there is a book about it. Start with that. It may take some getting used to. You may have to look up some words. You may struggle with some names ("Just say 'buttermilk' and roll on!' is one of my church members' way of dealing with long names in the Bible!). Just keep reading. The more you read, the easier it gets. The more you learn, the more you want to learn.
Then, when you have exhausted your favorite topic, move to something else. It might be something related, it might not. Find stories that are fun, fast-moving, and written at a level you can follow easily. You don't have to just read history and technical books, or just biographies. Read fiction! Read teen fiction, science fiction, historical fiction. Find something that trips your trigger and binge-read on it. Hang out at your local library or book store. Ask other people what they like to read, what stories they recommend. You will open up worlds you had no idea existed!
I don't mean to put down other disciplines when I place so much emphasis on reading. Science is important, history is important, health is important, even math is important (although if anyone tells my colleague Tom Witt I said that I will deny it to the high heavens!). But reading is the key that unlocks every other form of learning. If there is one single skill you can take out of high school and into the world, let it be a love of reading. If you have struggled with reading your whole life, you can still learn to read better and more often. If you have given up the struggle long ago. you can take it up again.
In my classroom at GCS, I have a whole wall of books. Upstairs at home, in the alcove between my bedroom and my daughters' lair (a scary, dim-lit tunnel composed of dirty laundry and Dr. Pepper cans leading to two beds), I have three double-sided bookshelves crammed with titles of all sorts. I haven't read them all, but I have read most. There are more books scattered all through the house, on the dining table, on the coffee table, on the floor next to the sofa. Every time I open one, I am transported somewhere else. I can ride along the smooth, well-cobbled roads of the Roman Republic carrying messages to Caesar's legions, or past the bloodshed and carnage at Antietam in the wake of Lee's retreat. I can hobnob with kings, emperors, elves, dwarves, and dragons. I can visit any time, any place, any event in this world or even on worlds that have never existed. I can see them all, experience them all, visit them all, BECAUSE I READ.
In the words of Tyrion the Imp: "That's what I do. I read, and I know things."
Learn to read. Learn to love reading.
Do it for yourself. Do it for your family. Do it for your kids.
Do it for the sheer love of books.
You'll never regret it!
And hey - if you are looking for a good book to start with, you can always order my newest novel: