On Thursday I took part in a workshop for union learning reps, exploring ways of promoting reading and writing for pleasure in the workplace. One of the initiatives that they work with is the Reading Ahead challenge – members are encouraged to choose six reads (which could be anything from a haiku to War and Peace) and write a brief review of each of them. The idea is to make reading less off-putting, to demonstrate that it’s for everybody.
One of the ULRs told a story about someone who had managed to put one of her recruits right off joining in the challenge.
‘And what are you reading at the moment?’ he’d asked. She’d told him, had said, a little apologetically, that maybe it wasn’t the most intellectual thing in the world, but she was enjoying it.
‘But it’s not about enjoying it, is it?’ he said. ‘It’s about challenging yourself, learning something new.’
That person was wrong. WRONG.
It is about enjoying it.
I’m going to write that bigger:
It *is* about enjoying it
And if the person who said that it isn’t was the person I think it was, I’m going to tell him so when I next see him.
This person is also wrong, or, at least, missing the point spectacularly. If we try to make people read because it is good for them, they will never enjoy reading. It’s like eating enough vegetables, or getting enough exercise: if you do it because you think you should, you’re constantly fighting with yourself and sooner or later you give up because you just hate yourself so much for making yourself do it.
The world is full of things that we read because we have to. Bills. Textbooks. Contracts. Procedures. They are not fun. Why should we extend that misery to the rest of our reading life?
The more people read for fun – read because they genuinely enjoy it, because they would rather be reading than doing something else – the easier they will find it when they come to reading what’s dull, or difficult, but essential.
Can we enjoy reading challenging material? Of course we can. Personally, I have just downloaded Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-Vingt Jours – yes, in French – which is going to be a challenge, and also something that I will enjoy. As one of my friends says, ’embrace the power of AND’. We can also keep reading things that we’re not currently enjoying in the hopes that we will enjoy them eventually.
But to deliberately seek out things to read that we don’t expect to enjoy… no. No, thank you.
In much the same way as one gets tired of doughnuts very quickly if one eats nothing but doughnuts, it’s unlikely that people will read nothing but [that book you’re thinking of] and [that other book you’re thinking of]. And really, if they did, would that be such a problem?
The more we read – the more we read for pure pleasure – the more we will find our horizons expanding and our tastes diversifying. If we just let people read what they want to read, and keep reading what they want to read, they’ll probably end up reading something that comes up to the exacting standards of the person who terrorised that poor potential Reading Ahead challenge participant.
But that’s not the point. Enjoyment comes first. Life is too short to drag ourselves through things we’re not enjoying just because somebody thinks they’re good for us.
It is about enjoying it. In fact, enjoying it is the most important thing.