Reading: Is Anything Better Than Nothing?

Does it matter what we read?

When it comes to children and young people reading, should parents/teachers/grandparents say, “I don’t really care what they read, as long as they’re reading”? I’ve heard folks say that many times through the years and never thought much of it. I tended to agree that kids’ reading something is better than reading nothing. And especially in this day of ubiquitous video games and various forms of electronic preoccupation, isn’t it better for a kid to turn off the brain-numbing gadgets occasionally and exercise other intrapersonal proficiencies? And the same applies to adults: isn’t it better to read something than nothing at all? With so many reading options available, from comic books to romance novels, to unlimited online content, what’s the big deal? Just read something! Because reading, no matter what it is, is good for you.

But an article I read recently caused me to stop and reconsider that assertion. The author challenged the reading-something-is-better-than-reading-nothing thesis with the analogous, “I don’t care what they’re eating as long as they’re eating.” Read that clause again: “I don’t care what they’re eating as long as they’re eating.” He is implying, of course, that not all reading choices have equal value for enriching our lives and making us healthier, better people.

A pair of disclaimers are in order. First, I’m not talking about very young children who are just learning to read, where the innate, God-given drive to learn and master one’s world one step at a time brings the child (and his parents) a sense of accomplishment and joy. I do believe that any and every type of reading material that interests little tykes needs to be encouraged. I’m referring to older kids (and, yes, adults) who have gained some mastery of reading fundamentals, yet who, for whatever reason, don’t read much.

Girl reading

Second, I’m excluding online content, including news, weather, sports, articles on various topics, and blogs—including this one. For the most part, that sort of reading is ephemeral, meaning it’s here today and gone tomorrow (or ten minutes from now). And so, while that is technically reading, it isn’t the type of reading I’m talking about. I admit that, as much as I like to read in general, a significant chunk of my reading these days consists of ephemera. And I worry that ephemera is producing an insidious shallowness in me. Reading twenty or thirty snippets of online content in one sitting on a regular basis may fool me into thinking I’m a well-informed person, but it may in fact be turning me into a Mississippi River kind of person: you know, someone who’s a mile wide but an inch deep. That troubles me.

Now, I could go on here, arguing for the reading of books—good, substantial, depth-producing books that take a concerted effort to consume and digest—but I’ll reserve that argument for a subsequent article. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you—from parents, grandparents, teachers, and other adults. Let me ask, what do you think of the statement, “I’d rather that people read something instead of nothing”? Do you agree? If so let me know why. If not, why not?

I look forward to hearing from you.