A Case for ‘Required Reading’ As An Adult

Why don’t more adults read?

Can you recite, off the top of your head, the title of the last book you read? Can you estimate how many books you’ve read in the past month — in the past year?

In my opinion, there are too many people who never pick up (or, sigh, download) another book the moment they don’t have to, if they ever even did their required reading in school at all. I don’t believe there are people who “just aren’t readers.” If you don’t like to read, that’s fine, I’m not going to force you. But there is a subject matter, a format (novel? Audiobook? Comic?), a style of writing, an author, an optimal word length, for everyone. You can choose not to read — but if you do, there’s something for you. And you should do all you can to find it.

Why don’t more people read? I ask this question because I’m curious, not because I’m judging anyone who doesn’t. I just wonder if our lives are just way more cluttered with other stuff than they used to be — even though sitting in front of a screen and watching shows, for example, is nothing new.

I’m not going to sit here and say Netflix and YouTube have ruined reading forever, because I spend more hours per week than I’m proud to admit on both of those platforms, and I’m still on book 30 of 50 this year.

There are people who prefer videos and BuzzFeed articles and podcasts to reading, but there are also plenty of people who prefer to diversify their entertainment, or edutainment, depending on the types of books you tend to read. I love streaming TV, but I do get tired of sitting there staring at a screen — I like mixing things up and staring at a physical page full of words for awhile.

So it’s not that we need to stop streaming and replace it with reading. No — we just need to do a better job of balancing watching, listening, reading, playing, and doing.

Maybe we just don’t know what to read, where to look for recommendations, whether or not we’ll like something before we dive into it. I hope that doesn’t stop people from exploring the wondrous world of books! There are so many! Which is probably the issue!

You already know how to read, but there’s so much more to gain from doing more of it on your own time. It forces you to focus — something I’m guessing many adults struggle with today (I do!). You get to use your imagination, picture how things might look and sound, something you don’t get to do when you’re watching a movie. Reading can also make you feel good — it’s a healthy kind of distraction, stress reliever, and when all else fails, go-to BFF.

If you do want to start reading more — even if only to inspire yourself to write more — or you want to encourage someone you know to do the same, start with the books from high school English class. They’re better than you think. In fact, reading them now, having already been exposed to them once before, makes for an even better reading experience.

Everything you had to read for a grade in school, you should read again at some point. I never finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird my freshman year of high school, but I have since read it cover to cover at least five times. A book you read (or were supposed to read) for a grade is much more valuable if you read it at least once for the assignment, and at least a second time on your own.

I’m more aware of my surroundings, I’m exposed to different cultures and religions, I can explore and try to understand ways of thinking that are different than mine — all because I read. If the social internet has taught us anything, it’s that more people need harsh, relatable exposure to all of these things and more. Books can do that. Any kind of story, whether you’re physically holding a book in your hand or not, can.

I think people should read more of what they want to read, because they want to read. I mean, 50 Shades isn’t necessarily what I’d choose, but maybe those kinds of things could be someone’s gateway drug to more … in-depth and insightful literature. You never know until you try. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Read more. Talk about books more. It just makes us all better people, and maybe happier, too.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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14 thoughts on “A Case for ‘Required Reading’ As An Adult

  1. Im terrible at balancing things in my life 🙁 but I try to read 1 book p/month minimum! 12 a year.
    I used to read something like 50 per year, but that was in highschool… when I didn’t need to do homework to keep up, when I didn’t need to work. Now I’m at uni, I find reading during semester can have disastrous consequences 😅

    1. Oh yeah, in college/university I barely read at all if it wasn’t for a grade. I completely understand the struggle! It gets better when you don’t have to study every day. :)

  2. I only have so much to say about this because I’m decidedly not one of the people you’re talking about :/ I read about 10 books a month right now. I also firmly believe that it’s ridiculous to be a writer if you’re not willing to read. I mean, I guess if you only write non-fiction articles, it’s not as big of a deal. What I don’t get are these people who want to write fiction – novels or short stories – without having immersed themselves in the genre, or without wanting to read at all. I just don’t get it.

    I do think that reading has the power to show us experiences and perspectives different from our own. It’s one reason I’ve been trying to read more diverse books this year – whether they’re books by authors of color, or LGBTQIA+ books, or books with disabled characters, or books about non-Christian religions. I just think it’s so important to try and soak up as many different stories as we can in this life. But again, I’m obviously biased :)

  3. I’ve just come across this post and I’m glad I have as I was just thinking about this issue. I agree with you 100%. There does need to be a better balance. From the people I know who don’t read the common answer is that they don’t have the time. Another barrier to reading I find is people thinking reading is slightly pretentious, and that it’s not something people like “them” do. This is definitely the case for many people I know, some of whom would never be caught reading on a bus or train as they would feel like the whole world was making assumptions about them.

    Despite the above, I think the biggest barrier is people not reading good enough books. A great book you enjoy doesn’t force you to focus. The people I know who are like the readers I’ve described above have always found the time to read if it’s an exceptional book I’ve lent them. Good to be God by Tibor Fischer is an example. After giving people I know who haven’t read in years that book they told me how soon they finished it and how much they enjoyed it.

    A lot of people become distant to the activity as they become older and start to see it as a lengthy commitment. It’s no longer seen as immediate entertainment, which it can be, and it’s how I look at reading: if I don’t like the first couple pages of a book I often put it down, if I don’t like a cover I don’t pick it up, if I think a book is bad I’m not afraid to say so and I don’t restrict my reading to just fiction. I tell people who don’t read to treat it as they would any other form of entertainment and to filter through for what they like. And I tell them what you said in your post: read what you like.

    This is a long comment! But it’s an issue I have thought about alot.

    1. Haha you definitely win the award for the longest comment ever left here — I love it. Reading is definitely time-consuming, but for some people that’s preferable. I don’t know, I just don’t like staring at a screen all waking hours of the day. I need a break. And I think reading especially in public has the potential to start plenty of interesting conversations. I’d personally rather someone judge me by what I’m reading than anything else! I think it’s also hard for people to find a book they’ll actually like. You really can’t just walk into a bookstore or library and know exactly what’s going to spark your interest. That’s why I love the idea of book boxes — you know, like those monthly subscription boxes you can get for almost anything now. I think it’s more exciting to pick up a book you know nothing about and see where it takes you, even if you don’t end up liking it. But that can be even more time-consuming, so I understand why many people think they can’t fit it in. But I also think most people have more time for things than they think they do, thanks to how easy and addicting it is to scroll through an endless social media feed.

      1. Haha, thanks. It is time consuming, but everything is. If it’s enjoyable you don’t notice time pass. Book boxes sound good. I’ve never heard of them so I will look into them. Picking up a book you know nothing about can be exciting, but similar to what you said, if you’re not big on reading each book you encounter that you don’t like will put you off even further as you’ve put time into the activity with the intent of being entertained but weren’t rewarded. And I agree, people definitely have more time for things than they think, they just have to distribute it better. You’re right in people just not knowing where to look. It’s a big part of the problem, which is why I sometimes wish books were given the same treatment as albums and films as I think in those arts the treatment of products is more vigorous (only word that comes to mind at the minute); there are always trailers/singles giving you a taste beforehand, multiple popular and professional websites that are solely dedicated to nothing else but reviewing and dissecting products and a few other things, but I’ll stop there as this comment is long enough!

      2. Haha. This is also why I love giving books as gifts. If I know someone well enough, I can find a book I know they’ll be interested in. Even if they never read or finish it, I’m at least introducing them to something new and exciting.

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