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Why we shouldn’t tell people that reading is good for them

Like many (most?) people of my generation I was never formally taught grammar. To this day, I admit, I can’t tell my noun from my verb or my adverb. This may horrify many of you. But, I think, it hasn’t stopped me instinctively understanding the rules of grammar and applying them to my writing. And I have books to thank for a lot of that.

I read endlessly as a child. And from that, I learned many things. Like aeroplane safety (thanks Topsy and Tim), how to make Playdough and that I didn’t want to be a ballerina because it made your toes bleed. But learning was always the subtext of what I was doing. Only maybe 10% of the books I read were explicitly learning – for school – and despite being an avid reader, I often resented reading those. Just like I resented (ok, just didn’t) eating my vegetables, which I was also frequently told were ‘good for me’.

As adults, we are more open to doing things that are good for us. We go to the gym, eat our vegetables, control our alcohol intake because this is good for us. Some of us enjoy these things, but as gym membership decline rates show us, most of us don’t. We both accept them and resent them. Then, there are other things we do for fun. We go to the theatre, or eat dinner with friends, or go on holiday. We all wish we had more time for these things.

This whole preamble is a way of telling you I hate it when people try and make you read ‘because it is good for you’. This puts reading into the first category: a must do, rather than a want to do. And I hope, for most of us, reading sits squarely in the second. We read to relax, to escape, to learn about our interests.


Recently, the Guardian has run a series of articles about the ‘good’ of reading.

How it can make you a better person
and how it can make you smarter
not once but twice

It’s not that I dispute many of the findings.
I agree that:

– variety adds to your experience
– thinking and talking about books is great after you’ve read them (well, indeed, that’s why I have this blog and why I started a book club)
– literary fiction is particularly engaging
– books can enlighten
– reading can help you manage issues you are facing
– readers are often better problem solvers
– books can teach you how to ‘do’ things

I read for all these reasons. And so many more. But please, don’t tell me I read because it’s good for me. Don’t liken reading to mange tout. That does you, and books, a terrible disservice.

About bloggingthelonglist

An avid reader, but I tend to stick to what I know I am comfortable with. Trying to break out of the comfort zone...

One response »

  1. Reblogged this on Gra Machree and commented:
    More thoughts from Kate.


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