My Son Doesn’t Like to Read
My son doesn’t like to read. Reading for enjoyment is a mystery to him. Actually, sitting still for enjoyment is a mystery to him. About the only thing he will sit still to watch are sports on TV and social media videos.
He is not ADHD. He can spend large amounts of time working at the computer on photographs and design problems, and he can concentrate and finish his homework. He is quite organized. But the only times he will read is when he needs information. And if he can obtain that information by listening, or asking a teacher or watching a YouTube video, he would prefer it. He does not read to understand. Gaining a deeper understanding of the life around him through reading would seem to be an oxymoron to him. What he most prefers is being out doing activities with friends.
I’m not much worried about my son’s prospects in life. He already runs his own business. He makes money. He is very active socially. He’s well liked and well behaved. Life doesn’t demand that he read that well. His biggest problem is that school demands he reads that well. And colleges demand that he read that well.
And speaking as someone who enjoys reading and does quite a lot of it, I wonder if society is best served by the emphasis our educational institutions place on reading. I realize this is heresy and in a large part probably wrong-headed. But, as I’ve aged and butted my head up against the world, it has occurred to me that many of the people I know, who have done quite well in life, do not like to read. And conversely, many of the people I know, who like to read, have not done as well as might be supposed, given their abilities.
I was first struck by this while trying to create a producer for my play. The fellow was a quite successful graduate from Stanford. He was somewhat intrigued by the idea of play production. But he admitted to me candidly that he didn’t like to read, and couldn’t imagine having to make it through “all those scripts”. Another fellow I met was admitted to Stanford almost entirely on his test scores – not his high school attainments, as I think he might have dropped out. But he had spent most of his teen years assiduously reading his way through the public library, and so seemed to have wowed the admissions people. He, however, did quite modestly in life, and much less than I might have expected. Then, there are others I have run across. For example, a quite successful CFO, a sought after mechanic who had never learned to read, and the Lord knows how many quite successful salespeople. In fact, the more successful the salesperson, the less it seemed they enjoyed reading. It wasn’t the product understanding so much as the numbers of people you met.
On the other hand, I like to read, and find myself among many friends and acquaintances who enjoy reading also, many with advanced degrees. But, many of these well-read friends have only had modest success in life, if that. I’ve many well-read friends who have lived on the fringes of poverty most their lives. And of the ones who have done better, most have achieved some success within a profession. But, of those within a profession, it still seems that those who prefer to read have still not done as well as those who don’t, or at least as well as their gifts would have appeared to take them. Of the doctors I know, the most successful does not particular enjoy reading.
So why doesn’t reading help us that much? This is the question which has occurred to me – especially since I like to read.
The most obvious reason I suppose is that reading is like golf; it takes a lot of time and takes us away from the business at hand, which is applying ourselves to life. “Always with your nose in a book,” as they say.
There are probably a multitude of reasons, actually. But the one most dire, that has occurred to me, is that the pursuit of reading is fueled by the belief that a better understanding of the world will naturally make us more successful. And I wonder if this is necessarily true. What age has taught me is as Shakespeare noted: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” This idea of getting a step up on life through greater understanding seems to be of limited use! Life, as I’ve come to know it, seems to be like the weather or the stock market and confound even the most learned. And those who do best are those who place their bets and get into the game – just as those who do best at investing are those who start. It’s simple enough, really.
A more troubling aspect is that the notion that we can understand life more successfully through reading – gets extended by the ego of the intellectual among us into the belief than they can fully understand life, at least to the extent that they owe it to the general betterment to legislate how the rest of the less acquainted with the ‘facts’ should live. Our educational institutions would seem to inculcate this view, if only implicitly. At one point this was the view of the educated nobility. Presently, it seems to be the view of everyone.
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