Five Myths About Reading & How to Put Them to Death

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Robert Bruce. Robert is a web writer for Dave Ramsey and blogger at 101 Books. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbruce76.

In the nearly three years that I’ve been blogging through Time’s Top 100 English-Speaking Novels, I’ve had many a discussion about books and reading.

Reading Myths
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If I’ve learned one thing (other than the fact that 101 books is a lot of books!), it’s that readers have strong opinions. We’re extremely passionate about the books we like, the books we hate, and the reasons we choose to read, or not read. And we’ll argue with you to the death about these reasons.

Don’t believe me? Tell someone who’s reading an e-reader that they’re not really reading a book, and see what kind of response you get (protect your face from a blunt attack first).

Sometimes, though, those passionate opinions translate into widely circulated nonsense about reading. I call them myths because, well, they just aren’t true.

Here are five of the most prevalent myths about reading I’ve encountered:

1. “I can’t learn anything from fiction”

I hear this one all the time. It used to bother me. I’d get a little angry. But, now, I’ve grown so accustomed to hearing it that I usually just nod my head and think, Oh, bless your heart.

If you think you can’t learn anything from fiction, then you’re reading the wrong fiction.

Sure, the novel can serve as an escape. But to say you can’t learn anything from 1984 or To Kill A Mockingbird or Harry Potter, or thousands of other novels, just isn’t true.

Jesus taught in parables — in other words, a story, a form of fiction — because it’s an effective teaching method. So if Jesus thinks you can learn from a story, it’s safe to say that you can learn a lot from a novel.

2. “I don’t have time to read”

This statement will usually come from non-readers who are passive-aggressively judging you for spending so much time with your head in a book.

Truth is, everyone has time to read. It’s just a matter of priorities. If you have time to play golf, then you have time to read.

If you have time to watch American Idol (does anyone even watch that anymore?), then you have time to read. You’ve just given that time to something else.

3. “Reading isn’t an activity”

Of course it is. Sometimes, readers get labeled as lazy slackers who just sit around on their couch all day and read Star Wars fan fiction. (Not true — it’s actually Twilight on a rocking chair on the porch.)

In all seriousness, reading is as much an activity as taking a test or writing an article or giving a speech. Reading takes mental energy. Ideally, you’re reading books that you can learn from, and you’re even taking notes or writing in the margins.

Don’t buy into the myth that you aren’t “doing anything” if you’re reading. Your brain would definitely disagree.

4. “My opinion about a book doesn’t matter”

News alert: Your opinion counts! For some reason, many readers get hesitant about expressing their opinion on a book. I believe a lot of that stems from insecurity.

We think something like, If I tell them I believe that, in this passage, the sun is a metaphor for God, will they laugh at me? Will I be ostracized from my reading community for having such a terrible, uneducated, ridiculous opinion? Will I live alone the rest of my life?

But you know what? Everyone else is thinking the same thing, maybe just slightly less exaggerated. So be bold.

Whether it’s at a book group or a lunch discussion or reviewing a book on Amazon, be honest and confident. You don’t have to be a professional book reviewer or critic to have a legitimate opinion.

5. “If you’re reading [insert genre], that’s not really reading”

I call these people book snobs. And, believe me, I know. I’m a recovering book snob myself.

The book snobs might say your love of the vampire romance genre doesn’t count, or the fact that you have Snooki’s biography on your shelf is embarrassing (okay, maybe that’s true).

But you have to read what you’re passionate about. If you don’t like Faulkner or historical biographies, no amount of prodding by a book snob will change your mind.

Here’s the truth: If you’re reading anything, you’re reading. And that’s a lot more than many people can boast these days.

Bottom line: You can’t go wrong with reading

Our culture has reached the point that readers — no matter what they choose to read — should be commended for reading.

Instead of turning our nose up at what a friend chooses to read, we should just appreciate that they’re reading in the first place. After all, readers are a rare breed, nowadays.

You’ll always find someone who will mock what you’re reading or tell you that you’re wasting your time. Just smile and nod your head and go on your way. Just go read.

Any of these myths strike a chord with you? Would you add one to the list? Share in the comments.

Robert is a web writer for Dave Ramsey and blogger at 101 Books. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbruce76.

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62 thoughts on “Five Myths About Reading & How to Put Them to Death

  1. Great thoughts Robert. I’ve never been a big fan of reading fiction, but I plan on changing that next week while I’m on vacation. I want to read a Stephen King Novel for the first time. Any recommendations?

    1. You can’t go wrong with The Shining. I loved Salem’s Lot. His newest one, 11/22/63, is supposed to be really good, though I can’t personally say because I haven’t read it yet.

  2. This is an excellent post. Some of these things are just spot-on –I’ve been thinking about them lately, and this really struck home.
    Thank you so much for the brilliant post! 🙂

  3. Love it Robert.

    Some of my greatest lessons from books came from the most unexpected places. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I am not looking to learn something…I allow things to just hit me.

  4. I loved this. Sometimes I felt so “superficial” when a friend would tell me she was reading something off the NYTimes Bestsller list or Gone with the Wind (which I have yet to read), and I was devouring the latest Harry Bosch or Alex Delaware adventure. I am thinking in my head, “She is so cultured. But come on, folks, does anyone do better descriptions than Kellerman when he talks about Milo Sturgis?” Anyway, thanks for the mythbusting. And I totally agree, if Jesus used stories to teach the most important things in the universe, then….well, we can fill in the blanks. I like how you process!

  5. I just finshed ready a fiction book that I downloaded from Story Cartel entitled, “The Gift of a Legacy.” It’s the fourth and final book in the Ultimate series by John Stovall. there is much to be learned from reading this fiction series.. It’s a tremendous series and I would highly recommend all of the books.

  6. Amazing article, and it’s true from top to bottom. The first one really got me, since I’m a fiction writer. I USED TO THINK THAT!

    I used to think “why am I even writing this? Nobody will want to read it, because it’s just a story, it’s not real, they won

  7. Thanks for pointing out the fact about fiction. I’ve read a lot of books in my life probably more non-fiction than fiction, but the books that I feel have taught e the deepest, most valuable lessons are almost always fiction. Great fiction writers use figurative language to reflect reality and communicate deep truths. There have been many great fictional works that have fostered in social change.

  8. I must hang out with an entirely different species of person than you and those “people” who commented before me. I have never heard anyone say anything like any of myths that you claim to have heard. It seems as if you made these myths up so that you’d have a premise for saying the opposite. It also make me think that the comments already on this page are not real and the people who the comments are the myths in this article. Who in world would ever sat that reading a e-book is not really reading a book. That’s ridiculous. But like I said, I must come from a completely different planet or solar system than all of you.

    1. I just arrived from Neptune a few months ago. But seriously, have you heard of Jonathan Franzen or Margaret Atwood? Both famous novelists who dislike e-readers and have been very outspoken about it. But, yeah, sounds like we just run in different circles if you’ve never heard any of these. I write a book blog and I hear this stuff all the time.

    2. I’ve heard that reading an ebook is not really reading a book lots of times. Some people say that from the perspective of being attached to the physical form of a traditional book, some think we process what we read off a screen differently. Snobbery about certain genres not being real literature is also very common

  9. As always Jeff, I enjoy reading your posts. Also do you know of anyone who can help me to write an incredible book proposal as I have a request to send mine (before the end of June )to really great publisher by a three time author for this publisher. It is a fantastic opportunity but I am feeling a bit overwhelmed.. writers fear maybe… yikes. I have to do this……

    1. Haven’t needed to use it yet, but I’ve heard Michael Hyatt’s guides to book proposals recommended.

  10. All reading leads to some type of conversation … even if it’s with thy self. I just bought my son Moby Dick a summer read and although he has yet to read it the conversations about the WHY … I want him to read this book has been most awesome.

  11. I read an article by Isaac Asimov some years ago, wherein he defined “True Literacy” as being able to read automatically with little or no untoward effort. He said that less than 3% of “Functional Readers” are fully and truly literate. He said that it wasn’t so much training and practice, as much as Native Ability. Just as you can’t expect every youngster one teaches to play Chess to go on to become a Chess Master (much less a Grandmaster). While exceptions are duly noted, most people will not read for pleasure if it is an irksome chore to read at any reasonable rate. Television, radio, computers, etc. have not taken the masses away from reading—for the most part. Those folks are part of the unperceptive 97% who would have played Checkers, Darts, Draughts or perhaps Poker in a pre-electronic age. I picked up reading very easily and was reading at an Adult level by mid 2nd Grade. It is hard to put myself into the shoes of even a partial illiterate. “Select All” then changing the font to Old Greek Letters and trying to read it later…Or struggling through a passage in Irish Gaelic—which I have only a tiny smattering of, or looking at the Comic Section of a Japanese Newspaper…That gives me an idea. But I know very well what I think. I’m curious what y’all think on the Subject….RVM45

  12. I used to think that if I wasn’t reading a self-help or technical book (to gain knowledge) that I was wasting my time. Then I read the Shack (is that a self-help book?) and realized that reading can actually be relaxing and rewarding. Now I can read just to enjoy what comes out of other people’s minds.

  13. When teaching writing workshops, people often tell me they feel guilty about reading fiction – they feel they should be doing some ‘more productive’. I think that sometimes had more to do what other people tell them than what they believe themselves. They love it when I encourage them to read more – sharing the fact that good writers tend to read a lot!

  14. Amen! I have been annoyed with my pastor’s daughter for years–she doesn’t read fiction–ever. I am a fiction writer! If Jesus used stories (fiction!) to make his points, then yes, fiction can be useful. I remember more tidbits of facts from novels than reading a whole non-fiction book.

  15. I have always considered that reading all the books in the school library by the time I was halfway through the 3rd grade was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. I love to read and learn and think my geeky side comes from all the comic books and science fiction that I enjoyed as a kid.

    Had to laugh at some of your myths as they hit home. I tend to read things that help me grapple with what is happening in my life now and I love to learn and share it with others.

    Ebooks have made it nice when traveling, but I still like to write in the margins and hate the limits for downloading my notes that Kindle places on us. Has anyone figured out a hack for that? :^)

  16. For people who think they don’t have time to read, audiobooks are a fantastic option. You can easily fit in hours of book time a week while commuting, exercising, doing chores ect using audiobooks.

  17. I have always been a reader and always will be. I always say I wish I could have a paid year off to read though because I keep accumulating books faster than I can read them. Thank God for the Kindle app for the iPhone. It’s my go-to when I’m at the doctor’s office or other places where I have to wait. My Goodreads profile grows every year. A fun thing to do with Goodreads is set up a yearly challenge to read however many books and it lets you know how you’re progressing throughout the year. Last year, my goal was 50 and I skated in at the last second and met it. This year it’s 65. I was ahead for a while but I think I might be a couple of books behind now. I should go read a book. (Most of my reading these days seems to come from blogs, which I believe still counts.)

  18. I’m always astounded when someone tells me they have never read a book (and I’ve heard this too many time, plus I’m really hoping they mean since they finished school). And then I feel sad for that person. They’ve never colonized Mars, ridden into battle with Ulysses Grant, created a wormhole and travelled to an alternate timeline. They’ve never sailed to the edge of the earth, never ridden the back of dragons, never learned languages unknown on this planet. They’ve never excavated a hidden pyramid, travelled down the Nile on Cleopatra’s barge, or seen a glimpse of a future civilization. What wonders of the mind they have missed!

    I’ve travelled more places in this world, and many other universes, learned more about people and their shared hopes and dreams, discovered more about the how and why of science than I could ever have hoped to experience
    in my life… through the pages of books.

    I proudly call myself a reading addict, enjoy most genres and am grateful to the people who share the creations from their imaginations with the rest of us. Long live the world of books… in any shape or form.

  19. My best friend hates reading, which is super annoying, but her main reason: “It’s boring” !!! As if! I am constantly trying to get her to try different books to see if she can find the genre or style that fits her, but she usually rebuffs my offers. 🙁 It makes me sad for her sometimes, especially when she tells me she is so bored because there isn’t anything good on tv!! Really? Read a book!!!

    1. Rachel, I think that is a very common response. I felt the same way about poetry–until I found some poets I connected with. I hope your friend keeps searching and if you recommend an author who has a style that is very clear and direct, (Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is my personal favorite of mine) I think that could really help.

  20. I like the point about book snobs. I usually read non-fiction books and looked down at fiction for a while but I was cheating myself. I try to read a fiction book every third book now. You can learn one or two valuable things from most books.

    I never understood not like to read until I had children. My kids didn’t like to read, which amazed my wife and me because we are both readers. However, they are beginning to read more now that they are in their teens. Good article.

    1. Ha. I’m not a big comic book fan either. I read The Watchmen graphic novel series and it did little to change my mind. That said, more power to those who enjoy them.

  21. I read almost exclusively some sort of genre fiction when I read fiction. That’s what I enjoy. And to whether the line should be drawn at comic books, I would say that there comic books that are truly as good as anything else.

  22. This is an awesome project, Robert!

    As John Irving reminds us, “The novel…is a demonstration of emotional and psychological truths.” I’d imagine you’re finding that as you work your way through Time’s 101 books. The reason we relate to good writing so well–and they reason why so many of us want to write well–is because reading is a contemplative experience we can come back to time and again.

    1. Thanks Corey! I’m having a blast with the project–going on nearly 3 years now. Even though 95% of the books are pretty depressing, I’ve learned so much from the experience. And still have so far to go.

  23. I have read everything I could get my hands on ever since I entered a Jesuit high school in 1958. A good book comes in handy while standing in line at the DMV in any state. Study the style or enjoy the story. I could not live without the words that carry the ideas that stir my own.

  24. I love reading and don’t care what anyone thinks about my love for sci-fi fantasy…I think reading so much makes me a better writer as I’m always thinking about characters, analysing plots and of course looking up the meaning of words that are not part of my regular vocab.

  25. Great subject, Robert. For me, reading has always been a guilty pleasure, meaning I usually feel guilty for making time to do it. I’m trying to change my mindset, and this post is a big help.

  26. I just finished T.Davis Bunn’s fiction book, “Book of Dreams” & learned a surprising number of things about the bible -a beautiful short prayer, the root meaning of words that expanded my knowledge of what scripture says, etc. I heard a brief long ago interview radio interview with the author & he mentioned that e was tagged as. Christian writer; whether he is or not this man teaches all woven around excellent storytelling and beautiful writing! God gave him this gift…

  27. “This statement will usually come from non-readers who are
    passive-aggressively judging you for spending so much time with your
    head in a book.”

    This one seems to be especially true. It’s sad that being over scheduled has become such a badge of honor our society that people feel the need to get their digs in when they encounter someone who actually admits to (insert “solitary” hobby here). When people tell me how busy they are, I used to feel guilty for making alone time a priority in my life. Now I just smile sympathetically and say, “Wow, that’s a bummer!” which usually leaves them hemming and hawing about how they love their job and their kajillion and one social obligations.

  28. I guest this can summed up all what I think about reading. One thing I learn is that by reading I improve my thinking skill a lot. Great post here.

  29. As a Husband, father of a two year old, full time employee, business owner, blogger, board member of a professional network, etc, I can say that myth #2 is only a myth.
    It really is about priorities – and being creative. books on tape, ebooks on my phone, reading during my lunch break, sitting in the car for 15 mins before leaving so that I can read, getting up at 5am…all ways that I have fit reading into my day.

  30. YOU are hilarious, Robert Bruce! My neighbors are probably curious as to what all the ruckus is about over here. “Oh bless your heart.” Poor soul! I was such a “lazy slacker”, I would get in trouble for reading too much. I still tease my mom about that one. “Tracy, go outside and play” … when all I wanted was to have my nose buried in a good book. Snooki’s biography – guffaw!

  31. I read to learn. I read my science periodicals for prefessional development. I read fiction for the pleasure it give me. I read history because I want to know more about specifice events and times. I am a life long learned and reading is an important element in my life. Example: the Masie Dobbs mystry series written in the period after WW I. Though fiction, the affects of the horrible war are the basis for each book. The impact of what the people had to go through is real and not imagined. I know because it affected my family directly. So I learn more about the after efects of war. I could go on and on about all the different books but the best reason to give is reading is fun, plearsurable, and enlightening.

  32. Hahaha! My mom and sister should read this. Well, if they have time to read. They thought I’m wasting my time buying and reading books. But, yeah, as always, I just look at them, smile, and read on. Happy reading, everyone! 🙂

  33. My friends argue that I’ve always got something better to do than reading a book. They tell me to go out more, or to stop being such an introvert. On the contrary, I think they’re discriminating book lovers by boxing them up into a stereotype. Granted, I’ve got specs and I love learning, but it doesn’t mean I’m no fun. I suppose I just find reading more fun than going out every evening is all.

  34. I own so many book that my family keeps making fun of me for it. I read all the time and I write, too. Those are very important things to me and it hurts me when they make fun of my collection. I’m sure nobody would comment if I was collecting coins. Of course, I’m not going to stop for them.

  35. I am so thankful I live close to a branch of my city’s library. I can’t afford to buy books and do not know what I would do without access to them. Books entertain me, calm me, spark my imagination, and YES! I do learn from reading, even if it’s only the use of a word or discovering a new word that I can go use elsewhere to make me “look smart” to friends and family!! I love reading! 🙂 Thank you for your post.

  36. I know this is an old post, but I still love it. As a really passionate reader, I agree that all of these are just myths. I can especially relate to number one, since I was once a nurse and was quite used to people telling me that I should be reading more medical and nursing books rather than fiction; at least that way I’ll learn something that I could use in my profession.

    But what they didn’t realize was that I got my emotional sensitivity from reading literature. I wouldn’t have been able to care so much for my patients–an essential trait for nurses–if I hadn’t experienced what they were feeling through literature.

    Thanks for writing this, really. It really resonated with me.

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