In response to this WSJ piece, I wrote a comment on League of Ordinary Gentlemen that I wanted to reproduce:

Imagine how much more successful you would be if you locked your kid in the basement with nothing but a chair, a light, and a bunch of books. Then they’d read Dickens like the dickens. No need to go crazy, of course. You can let them out for school and little league and stuff. Of course, when all the kids are talking about video games that he’s never played and TV shows he knows nothing about, he will be suitably insulated from the ability to make friends by virtue of the fact that he will have little to talk about except a bunch of books nobody else has read and little league. He won’t be able to talk about Major League Baseball cause he won’t be able to watch any games, but I’m sure they’ll be just as interested in the triple he hit on Tuesday night than the local pennant race.

Now, if we’re going to be sincere about this, we also have to watch what they read. As Mr. Spence points out, if you let them read what they’re interested in you’re actually just coddling them. Better to stick to non-fiction since fiction is full of useless things that may be “riveting” and “engrossing” but we’ve already established that it’s not important that they enjoy themselves by their own standards. They’ll learn more reading books about molecular biology. Or the dictionary.

There would be exceptions, of course. You would want them to read the classics, so that you can brag to all of your friends that your 6th grader has read Moby Dick. Unlike their peers, your peers matter.

I’m not going to argue that reading is not a good thing and that young boys would be better off if they read more. Nor am I going to argue that fart books are the literary equivalent of Moby Dick or that video games are just as good for kids as reading.

However, I find the entire premise behind this really distasteful. Basically, if you bore kids enough they will have no choice but to read. If you leave them only those books that you are sure they must find interesting then they will find those books interesting. And it’s true, to an extent, but that’s not what reading is for. I don’t argue that you should let kids do whatever they want or everything their peers are allowed to do, but surely there is some sort of balance to be struck here. Isn’t there?

Is reading (not just reading, but reading precisely what you want them to be reading) really so important that you would deprive them of the alternatives? Deprive them of the “recreational internet” which is actually full of all manner of stuff they can learn about the second it pique their interest? Deprive them of movies which allow them not just to construct the imagery as best they can but actually experience things happening right before their eyes? Or the thrill and excitement of not just reading about exciting things but actually sort of experiencing them and working your way through them in the form of video games? Is anything but text on a page illegitimate?

I have no love for video games. The only two gaming consoles I have are the PlayStation 2 and the N64, which is one generation and two generations displaced from current. But man, the more I think about the attitude presented in this piece the more it brings out the intemperate side of me. By all means, make sure that they’re not living their lives in a digital world. But don’t deprive them of the experiences that they can provide.

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5 Responses to We Were Not Put On This Earth Only To Read

  1. Black and Blue Man says:

    By all means, make sure that they’re not living their lives in a digital world. But don’t deprive them of the experiences that they can provide.


    Variety is the spice of life, and everything in moderation.

    A year or so ago, there was a very interesting article in a local newspaper that discussed the surprising findings from a study of the reading habits of the state’s teenagers. The common perception was that thanks to the internet and video games, teens didn’t read so much anymore – but instead, the poll found that teens actually read a lot.

    What bugged teens about reading, though, was that (with one major exception) it was expected of them that all their reading had to be for educational purposes only.

    The one major exception? Harry Potter – but that was only because many adults were big fans and thus deemed Harry okay as reading for entertainment.

  2. Abel says:

    Agree–for the most part.

    Most kids don’t like to read beacause schools and adults push books on kids that bore the hell out of them. Show kids that there are books out there that they enjoy reading (e.g., Harry Potter) and they’ll develop a love of reading.

    That being said, there are TONS of kids in my neighborhood that do nothing but play video games and surf the internet all day. Sure, they can “read” but give them a book–even something like Harry Potter or those fart books–and they’ll toss it aside becuase they don’t have the attention span to sit and read.

    Yes, the WSJ article was snobbish but his point of getting boys to turn off the Xbox was dead on.

  3. trumwill says:

    B&BM, it really was the dreaded “recreational internet” that got me reading a whole lot on a regular basis. My reading skills up until college were really pretty poor. College changed that not only by the reading material (which I was able to sidestep somewhat but not to the extent that I was able to sidestep reading in high school) but because I had high-speed Internet in the dorms. It improved even more still after college with the web becoming more robust with content.

    Video games don’t help as much in this regard, but they simply provide a different experience and one not without its merits. Nobody says “little league is terrible because that’s time they could be reading!” but even as video games get more physical in nature and there are numerous options that provide exercise they kids otherwise wouldn’t be getting, the response is part “This is great!” (as it should be) but also part “this isn’t as good as real exercise…”

  4. trumwill says:


    That was me growing up, except replace video games with television. I was initially going to let my TLOOG comment stand on its own, but decided instead that I did want to clarify that getting kids to read is a good thing and that it’s not good if all the kids do is sit around looking at moving pictures and audio on a screen.

    But in between letting kids do whatever they want (which can lead to things like kids not having the attention span to read) and forcing on them what you think is optimal without regard to the breadth of their experience is meeting them half way. Which is precisely what Spence is decrying.

    I do hope that if I have sons the bookshelf will not be full of fart books. But if it is… at least there’s a bookshelf and hopefully their reading skills will develop faster than mine did.

  5. Mike Hunt says:

    The only two gaming consoles I have are the PlayStation 2 and the N64

    I have you beat. The most recent gaming console that I own is a Sega Genesis. It is literally collecting dust. One day I will hook it up to an analog television that is also collecting dust. Maybe I will see if my Commodore 64 still works as well.

    I am reminded of the Afghan proverb: Har chiz ba andaza. In English: Everything in moderation. Old fogies who complain that kids get too much screen time lived in a world where there were 7 television stations at most, and perhaps Pong. Therefore they shouldn’t act all high and mighty. Yes, kids should read more, but not at the exclusion of other things that kids enjoy. School is more about socialization than anything else, and if they can’t converse about popular culture, the socialization doesn’t work as well.

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