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Conversations with Intelligent People

"Do you read?"

"No. Not really."

"It--well, it helps, you know? Read a lot and you can decide what kind of genre you like to write in, what kind of form you'd like to use--"

"Genre, that's like, science fiction, isn't it?"

"No. There's lots of genres. It's different kinds of writing and different forms. It's not just science fiction--if anyone tells you that, they're probably a science fiction author. They say the genre to mean their work all the time. That's why the world despises them."

"Oh."

"You should read. It's important to read, and read widely."



You might think it strange, but over half the people I run into while teaching don't read. It's school that does it, of course: the endless boring, banal books that they're required to chop up, decipher, and add meaning to while being instructed by dull, barely educated men and women doesn't exactly inspire many people with a desire to read. In fact, on my more cynical days, I tend to think that, firstly, High School is just a manifestation of society as a whole, and that what you are forced to digest is what society wants to raise you upon so that you're sedated intellectually, and secondly, that if you get out of High School with a desire to read, then you must have known that there were more interesting books out there than the ones you were fed, and that you should thank whoever or however you found that. For it is through them that you must have realised that every bit of roughness, every morally grey moment, every thing in a piece of literature that might make you feel something good or bad has been removed by your educators, your parents, your politicians, and by everyone who is currently making your world, and that they have purposefully shaved back to such a point that you are being given the literature equivalent of Novocaine from six to eighteen.

But that's just on my cynical days.

Comments

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kaolinfire
Sep. 13th, 2007 01:24 am (UTC)
I grew up in libraries, give or take, and I'm pretty thankful for that.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHxS8YYArmQ
benpeek
Sep. 13th, 2007 01:44 am (UTC)
i've always had dodgy libraries, myself, so i think i just slipped through the cracks...
mattdoyle
Sep. 13th, 2007 01:27 am (UTC)
cynical, but sadly true. i was lucky in that i had a crazy-reading-mother. school did nothing to foster my love of books, other than make me appreciate how much better the books i read outside of school were.
benpeek
Sep. 13th, 2007 01:44 am (UTC)
i really got into reading because i loved writing, i think. the one fueled the other.
strangedave
Sep. 13th, 2007 01:29 am (UTC)
What really astonishes me is that friends who teach writing at uni etc say that many people who are in creative writing courses don't really read that much either. I'm just curious as to why they write.
mattdoyle
Sep. 13th, 2007 01:33 am (UTC)
i am more curious as to HOW they can write if they don't read!! jeez
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benpeek
Sep. 13th, 2007 01:43 am (UTC)
i think it's the whole 'glamour of an artist thing'. you'd be astonished by how many times i've had to explain how much money i don't make.
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(no subject) - angriest - Sep. 13th, 2007 02:52 am (UTC) - Expand
exp_err
Sep. 13th, 2007 01:43 am (UTC)
If you're not reading for pleasure well before you get to high school, you're probably never going to. I don't remember any assigned reading in primary school, beyond the learn-to-read primers.
benpeek
Sep. 13th, 2007 01:45 am (UTC)
yeah, i'm not sure how the primary thing goes. i know kids who read tho--i think they have library tasks and such.
benpeek
Sep. 13th, 2007 01:46 am (UTC)
oh. also, i might disagree with the pleasure thing before high school. it's never too late, i figure.
exp_err
Sep. 13th, 2007 01:49 am (UTC)
Never too late, I agree, but I imagine those who start reading for pleasure in their teens or later are a minority.
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(no subject) - buymeaclue - Sep. 13th, 2007 11:48 am (UTC) - Expand
exp_err
Sep. 13th, 2007 01:47 am (UTC)
I'm actually grateful for the books they made me read in High School. Some of them - Lord of the Flies, The Outsiders, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, The Europeans - weren't exactly fun, but they did broaden my horizons. Others - Shakespeare and Austen, for example - I really did enjoy. Left to myself back then, I wouldn't have read anything but SF.
benpeek
Sep. 13th, 2007 01:49 am (UTC)
i think the only book i read in highschool i liked was ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST, but that i picked as an elective.

i hate shakespeare in highschool. i hate everything about him there.
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cassiphone
Sep. 13th, 2007 02:09 am (UTC)
I was teaching a grade 11 & 12 writing workshop recently, and one kid was talking about scary clowns, so I recommended he check out Pilo Family Circus.

And another kid said, "Why should I read the book when I can see the movie."

My first response (after I choked down 'are you a crazy person' because I felt that might be unhelpful) was - well, they haven't made this book into a film yet. So if you want to experience it, the book is the only option.

And then he said, "yeah, but there are other movies about clowns."

To which I actually had no response. Because it is true.

Actually no, I did say that if he was interested in creative writing then it was a good idea to read a wide variety of things.

He said he wasn't interested in writing.

Given that I had been *told* I was a guest author for a group of kids who had taken Creative Writing all year as an elective, this came as something of a shock.

He then told me the teacher had made him come.

I felt very depressed.

benpeek
Sep. 13th, 2007 02:23 am (UTC)
that kid sounds real classy. i think i would have belittled him. or just ignored him and focused on the other kids.
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exp_err
Sep. 13th, 2007 02:30 am (UTC)
group of kids who had taken Creative Writing all year as an elective

Ah. That doesn't mean they were interested in Creative Writing. Probably, it means they saw it as the easiest course that fulfilled some literacy requirement for graduation, or as an option that fit their timetables that was less dull than Microeconomics, or some such.
(no subject) - benpeek - Sep. 13th, 2007 02:31 am (UTC) - Expand
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frogworth
Sep. 13th, 2007 02:33 am (UTC)
Which science fiction writers are those?
benpeek
Sep. 13th, 2007 02:40 am (UTC)
the australian ones :)

actually, that's just my pet hate, when i see people refering to 'the genre' like it's the only one. what can i say? it's an irrational thing.
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elenuial
Sep. 13th, 2007 03:34 am (UTC)
I was supposed to be working on a vaguely unsolved problem in abstract algebra, but instead I ended watching an hour of Bill Hicks on YouTube, you bastard. :P

Reading is fun. I work hard trying to make it seem so to others.

(For the record, I liked a lot of high school books... But I also had fun picking them apart and upsetting the teacher; in my 9th grade class, I wrote an essay praising Romeo & Juliet as the highest form of moral beings, the apotheosis of human evolution. Then I backed it up. She didn't like that very much.)
angriest
Sep. 13th, 2007 03:46 am (UTC)
A day spent watching Bill Hicks is never wasted.
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benpeek
Sep. 13th, 2007 06:27 am (UTC)
time spent watching bill hicks is never time wasted. had you heard of him before this?
(no subject) - elenuial - Sep. 13th, 2007 04:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
black13
Sep. 13th, 2007 07:51 am (UTC)
It's not just on my cynical days that I believe that, if I hadn't already been a bookworm when school tried to edumacate me about literature, I would never have touched a book afterwards. Even when I was in school, it seemed to me that school was all about making the kids hate books and reading.

I was the rebellious kind, though. I read Oscar Wilde and Homer just to spite them, and to throw it into their faces that they weren't succeeding with me.
benpeek
Sep. 13th, 2007 01:13 pm (UTC)
i hope you threw the actual books :)
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tigersmeleth_86
Sep. 14th, 2007 02:23 am (UTC)
You know, I swore that when I was going to be a teacher (in two years), I would never use a history textbook if I could help it. Especially for world history. A poorly written textbook is enough to turn any student off from reading. I felt that way. I was lucky enough to have an English as a Second Language teacher who took me to a bookstore, and let me pick anybook I wanted to read for an assignment.

So of course, I decided that I would teach World History with different articles/chapters on Food History. Because reading about how cacao beans (and in essence, chocolate) were so important in the New World and Old World economics, than the usual "Columbus discovered America, Cortez caused genocide among the Aztecs"
benpeek
Sep. 14th, 2007 02:59 am (UTC)
what happens if your kids hate food history, though?
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