According to National Endowment for the Arts, 33 percent of young adults never read a book again once they graduate from high school. That means that one-third of the students here at Oswego State have not read anything since they closed “The Catcher in the Rye,” “The Great Gatsby” or “Of Mice and Men.” I have nothing against J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald or John Steinbeck, but I would not want any of those to be the last book I’d ever read—not because they aren’t good books, but because we were forced to read them.
In high school, students read as much as they have to to get a good grade, and then they stop reading. Some of them never open the book at all. When reading a chapter every night is homework and finishing a book over break is mandatory, it becomes ingrained in us that reading books is a chore. There is more to reading than chapter quizzes and essays, and there are a lot more books out there to be read aside from the ones you were assigned in high school.
High school books are meant to be educational. They teach you about the history of racism in America (“To Kill a Mockingbird”), the horrors of the Holocaust (“Night”), the harsh realities of war (“All Quiet on the Western Front”) and the fragility of civilization (“Lord of the Flies”). All of these books were chosen for a reason. Even if you don’t enjoy reading them, you will learn something from them. If these books are the only books a student ever encounters, I can see why they would think reading is boring. These books do not tell everyone’s story. They do not tell stories that everyone will care about. They just tell stories that we have been told are important.
Saying that you hate reading because you hated reading “The Old Man and the Sea” or “The Scarlet Letter” is like saying you hate movies because you did not like “Psycho” or “Casablanca,” or saying you hate music because you do not care for Mozart or the Beatles. The books you read in high school are important from a cultural standpoint, but that does not mean they have to be important to you.
Books have only been around since people figured out how to bind parchment together, but stories have been around as long as we have. Stories are a mark of humanity. We understand our world and our lives and all the people in our lives through stories. Maybe you did not care about Holden Caulfield or Nick Carraway or Lennie’s stories, but there are stories out there you will care about. You just have to find the right character, the right world, the right genre and, unfortunately for you non-readers out there, to do that you have to try reading a lot of different books.
If you really are that averse to books, there are other ways to read. In fact, you probably read a lot more than you realize. We read our Facebook and Twitter feeds, those stupid lists on Buzzfeed, celebrity gossip on the Huffington Post, funny Tumblr posts, and all the other things we’re linked to in our daily online lives. There are of course e-readers like the Kindle and the Nook, which make reading a lot more convenient, but if you don’t feel like spending anywhere from $50 to $500 on a device made specifically for reading, there are apps for reading books on your phone too. You already look at your phone all the time, so why not read while you’re at it?
Please don’t let your experiences in high school color your perception of reading for the rest of your life. Give another book a chance. There are so many stories you will miss out on if you don’t.