An article in today’s Atlantic magazine blared, “The Most Important Lesson Schools Can Teach Kids About Reading: It’s Fun.” The authors, Jeffrey Wilhem and Michael Smith, offer a host of perfectly good arguments as to why a lifelong reading habit is like the best kind of crack. It’s the pleasure of entering into a story world. It’s social when you read the same texts as your friends. And reading can allegedly even help you become the person you want to become. Who knew?!
Well, I learn about myself through books when I imagine myself in the different situations. I’m pretty sure other people do that, too. And then I really can think about what would I really do. Would I run and hide or would I, you know, stand up and take it? And then you say well I like to think that I would stay, but maybe I really would run away and the next time you’ve got that fight or flight thing going on, you kinda think back to which one you want to be doing. You can sort of help yourself change in that way, and when you really admire a character in a book who’s really brave and stuff, you kind of can idolize them and become more like them. So it’s not really learning about yourself, it’s learning about what you could be.
I feel the need to add a caveat to this. Reading can be fun, once you know how to do it. But learning to read is often very much not fun, and people succeed in a variety of degrees. And even when you’re an accomplished reader, let’s face facts and admit that there’s more mental work involved in reading a story than there is watching a multimedia presentation of the same story. If you’re tired, you don’t grab a library book, you snap on Love it or List it. (OK. Some of us do).
Side note: I suppose it’s just a coincidence that the article’s authors have written a book called “Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want—and Why We Should Let Them.”