Why We Don't Read

Seven Excuses That Can Be Easily Overcome

A hardcover book closed and unread on a windowsill

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Studies conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts show that Americans, in general, don't read much literature. The question is, "Why not?" There are lots of excuses people give as the reasons why they haven't picked up a good book in months—or even years. Fortunately, for every one of them, there's often a solution.

Excuse #1: I Don't Have Time

Think you just don't have the time to pick up a classic? Take a book with you everywhere and instead of picking up your cell phone, open the book—or e-reader. You can read while standing line, in waiting rooms, or during a train commute. If longer works seem overwhelming, start with short stories or poetry. It's all about feeding your mind—even if it's only one bit at a time.

Excuse #2: Books Are Expensive

While it may be true that owning books was once considered a luxury, these days there are numerous sources for inexpensive literature. The Internet has opened a whole new arena for readers. Literature, both old and new, is available on your handheld device for free or deeply discounted prices.

Of course, the most time-honored method for getting access to books of pretty much every description at little or no cost is your local public library. You can pick and choose without having to purchase. You can borrow the books and read them at home or read them on the premises, and with the exception of late fees or damages, it's usually free.

The bargain section of your local brick and mortar bookstore is another place to find reasonably priced books. Some places don't mind if you read while you're sitting in the store in one of their comfortable chairs. Another great resource for inexpensive books is your local used bookstore. You buy books cheaper used than new, and you can also trade in books you've already read—or books you know you'll never get around to reading. Some of the major discount retail chains have book sections that sell remaindered books on the cheap. (Remaindered books are new books. They're just the excess copies left over when a publisher orders too many for a print run.)

Excuse #3: I Don't Know What to Read

The best way to learn what to read is by reading everything you can get your hands on. You'll gradually learn which genres you enjoy reading, and you'll begin to make connections between books, as well as to understand how books can connect to your own life. If you don't know where to start, or you find yourself stuck for ideas along the way, find someone who enjoys reading books and ask for recommendations. Likewise, librarians, booksellers, and teachers can help point you in the right direction.

Excuse #4: Reading Keeps Me Awake at Night

People who love to read often find themselves so engrossed in a book that they stay up practically all night reading. While it's not the worst thing in the world, nor is falling asleep while reading, it can make for a groggy morning—and some pretty strange dreams. Try to schedule reading for other times besides bedtime. Read at lunch, or for an hour when you wake up. Or, if you are going to be reading all night, make sure you limit it to those evenings when you're going to be off work the next day.

Excuse #5: Can't I Just Watch the Movie?

Yes and no. You can watch a movie instead of reading the book on which it's based, but quite often, they have very little in common. Case in point: "The Wizard of Oz." Almost everyone has seen 1939's classic musical starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, but it's a far cry from the original series of L. Frank Baum books on which it's based. (Hint: Major elements of plot and important characters never made it to the big screen.) That's not to say that the movie isn't anything but wonderful, but as someone in Emerald City so aptly pointed out, "It's a horse of a different color."

There are countless classics that have been turned into movies including Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes," Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Jack London's "Call of the Wild," Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express," and J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" trilogy—not to mention that "wizardly" kid brought to you by the fertile mind of J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter. Go ahead and watch the TV series or the movie version, but if you want to know the real story, read the book on which the movie was based—before you watch it.

Excuse #6: Reading is Too Hard

Reading isn't always easy, but it doesn't have to be hard. Try not to be intimidated. People read books for many reasons, but you don't have to feel that it's an academic experience if you don't want it to be. Entertainment is one of the best reasons for reading. You can pick up a book and have an unforgettable experience: laugh, cry, or sit on the edge of your seat.

A book—even a classic—doesn't have to be difficult to be a great read. While you may find that the language in books such as "Robinson Crusoe" and "Gulliver's Travels" is a bit hard to wrap your head around because they were written so long ago, most readers have no problems with "Treasure Island." It's true that many famous authors wrote books that are tough to get through for people who haven't studied literature, however, lots of them also wrote things that are much more accessible. For instance, if you want to read something by John Steinbeck but think "The Grapes of Wrath" is a little out of your league, start out with something like "Cannery Row" or "Travels With Charley: In Search of America" instead.

Ian Fleming's James Bond isn't a tough read, but did you know Fleming also authored the classic children's book "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"? (Which is nothing like the movie!) In fact, many books written for young audiences are great places to start your reading experience. C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia," A.A. Milne's "Winnie the Pooh," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "James and the Giant Peach," both by Roald Dahl are books beloved by kids and adults alike.

“I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.”
– Roald Dahl

Excuse #7: I Just Never Got Into the Habit

No? Then make it a habit. Make a point of reading literature on a regular basis. Start with a few minutes a day and make a commitment to continue. It doesn't take much to get into the habit of reading. Once you've got a good start, try reading for longer periods or with a greater frequency. Even if you don't enjoy reading books for yourself, reading a story to your child can be very rewarding. You'll be giving them a great gift which will prepare them for school, for life, and it can also serve as an important bonding experience they will likely remember for the rest of their lives.

Need more reasons to read? You can make reading a social experience. Share a poem or a short story with a friend. Join a book club. Being part of a group will give you an incentive to keep reading and the discussions may actually help you gain a better understanding of literature.

It's really not that difficult to make books and literature a part of your life. Start with something manageable and work your way up. If you never read "War and Peace" or "Moby Dick," that's fine, too.