Twenty Answers to the Question
1. Reading is for everyone because it is not all one thing.
2. Many kinds of reading exist: people read different things for different reasons, and they read differently at different times, including at different times in their lives.
3. People read for fun, to amuse and occupy themselves, to be up on what others are reading and talking about, to learn and know things, to explore themselves, to travel outside themselves and away from their locations, to gain from other’s lives, thinking or imagination what they have to say beyond one’s own experience.
4. Reading is at times technical, practical, entertaining, adventuresome, playful, silly, poetic, serious, matter-of-fact, fantastic, mysterious, symbolic, mystical, argumentative, political, informative, worshipful, philosophical, historical, questioning, advising, model-making, or many other dimensions.
5. Because reading is individualized for different people, readers read what they like feel good while reading, feel rewarded for having read and enjoy themselves during the process of reading and afterwards as they think about and talk about what they have read.
6. There is little point in reading what you don’t like. Enough other things exist to read than to spend time with something that doesn’t make you want to read it. Even things you are told you have to read and may not like, you can often find something else that substitutes for them.
7. Reading is a lifetime skill, except that you cannot predict what kind of reading you might need or want to do in the future.
8. Reading is developmental, that is, you gain reading ability by reading, and there is no other way, no short cut, no way to know reading except to read. Some things are easy to read, and some things are hard. The Constitution of the United States, for example, is at the 22d grade level or senior year in college; if you want to be good in reading at that level, you need to just keep on reading.
9. Because reading is developmental, for most people the practice of reading will readily put a person’s abilities beyond the average for their age level. Those who have reading difficulties, when they are detected, can also become a successful reader.
10. Reading is more fundamentally human than any technology. Reading is older than paper, older than the English language, older than printing presses, older than computers and the Internet. We will still have reading should all the newspapers, magazines, books, and love letters disappear.
11. People either want to read things by themselves and mull over them in their heads or read them as part of a group and talk to others about them. Both ways make sense.
12. Reading is portable, cheap, flexible and beneficial. Be prepared: have something to read with you at all times.
13. Reading can become habitual. Of course, reading is not automatic; readers have to set aside time to read. Since we all have the same 24 hours a day, reading requires choosing when to do it. No one time fits all.
14. Reading is discovery. Anything not yet read is a deep, dark unknown, and we are often reluctant to pick up something new because we don’t know if we’ll like it. So look it over, examine the clues—cover comments, introduction, contents listing, beginning pages, here and there in the book. If it seems promising, give it a try; if that doesn’t work, go on to something else.
15. Reading has a tendency to continue ever onward, and it is impossible to read everything, even everything that you might think is important and good to read. Reading proceeds by choosing what to read, and there are plenty of guides to what to read next, but the best one is what your own reading suggests.
16. Reading is a basis of relationships, between classmates and friends, within families and between parents and children, between students and teachers, between co-workers, between neighbors, between members of the same organization, among and between faith communities and within civic communities.
17. Reading is the basis of most work from the 20th century onward in knowledge-based and information-oriented societies.
18. Reading is a basis of learning and of continued learning across the lifespan. And reading is independent of any institution except bookstores and libraries, both of which only exist to help you find what you want.
19. Reading is the key to our past, both the immediate past and of ages past. Then people—some like us, some more informed and wiser—took the time to write down their experiences and their thoughts for our benefit. If we want to, we can take advantage of what they had to say.
20. Reading is an investment in one’s own personal future. Reading is stocking up stories, information, knowledge, narrative and expression for the times we need to draw on what we’ve read, to remember, talk, think, figure out, know and consider some challenge or some future state of being from the fund of past reading experiences.
© 2001 by Roger Sween.
This listing of 20 responses to the question Why Read? by Roger Sween was written in response to a request on reasons for high school students to read asked by Jane Prestebak and first posted on the MEMO-L listserv in November 2001. The MEMO co-presidents subsequently with permission distributed the list at the pre-conference on reading at the American Association of School Librarians that fall. At the request of Judy Bull MEMOrandom (February 2002), the newsletter of the Minnesota Educational Media Organization, published the list with permission.
I welcome substantive comments on the contents of this bloog. Personal comments may be sent to me at my email address given above.