I’m a firm believer that there are not many “non-readers”; there are just a lot of people who haven’t yet discovered what they like to read. The solution is not to “force feed” what is unpleasant, but rather to arrange a buffet of choices to encourage book tasting. Please note that this strategy works well for children, young adults and the rest of us. I’ve found success using this approach with former students (middle school to university) who vehemently announced they didn’t like reading and wouldn’t read for pleasure. I took several to bookstores myself and let them roam until they found something that might be possibly, vaguely, a bit interesting. It works… many of these students (now adults) still write to me and tell me about what they’re reading and how grateful they are. One book leads to another, and it all starts with looking for the spark.
1. Think about subjects, issues, categories that you find interesting in real life. Make a list of these items and use it as a beginning point for your book hunt. If you love CSI, then criminology, crime stories, mysteries are worth looking into. Or if you prefer cooking, in addition to cookbooks, there are biographies and memoirs of successful chefs that might whet your appetite. This will get you going in a direction that you already find pleasing, so it’s a smart beginning.
3. Go to your local bookstore and talk to the clerk. Tell him/her what your interests are and ask for suggestions.
4. Sample some books on your list. You can do this many ways: go to the library and browse, visit a bookstore and collect the books and find a comfortable chair, or go on line and preview a chapter or two of your possible suggestions.
5. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THIS PROCESS: You do not have to like the book you’re sampling. You have my permission to put it down and even make a face at it. This is all about YOU having a choice. The Tetreault Golden Rule is as follows: If the book you’re reading doesn’t make your heart go “pitter patter” by page 30, drop it immediately, like a bad boyfriend/girlfriend. This gives you the freedom to pick and choose what YOU enjoy and that’s what encourages more reading.
Let go of value judgements about whether a book is challenging or cool enough – save the hierarchy for later. Your goal is to find a book that captures your interest now. You don’t get extra points for selecting or not selecting best sellers, award winners, books you didn’t read in high school, classics, graphic novels, books that you’ve already seen the film, or books you’ve already read. The choice is yours, and there are no wrong choices. Please note that it is perfectly acceptable to cycle through several books before you find one that you’d like to read, and you will find one that you want to read if you keep sampling.
6. Try checking out collections of short stories by different authors, just to get a sense of the author’s style. Non-fiction collections, likewise, offer a sampling that you can later follow. I also really love looking through college writing/literature anthologies. My favorite is The Writer’s Presence because it contains a broad array of excellent pieces of writing—fiction as well as non-fiction.
7. If you get stuck, just go browsing through book reviews or the stacks in the library or in a bookstore. Ask a librarian or salesperson what they’d recommend… or what is the best selling book of the day… anything to get you jump started. Trust me, it will happen—you’ll make a connection to a book and want to read it.
8. What do you do once you find that book and read it? Hmmmm, there are lots of possibilities. You could find other books written by the same author or other titles on a similar subject or check out on line bookstores’ recommendations. There’s always some version of “If you like this, you might like that.” I also look at the list of what other people who liked this book also purchased. You can also find out what authors inspired a writer that you like…or what titles s/he enjoys reading, just to give you more avenues to travel.
9. If you’re hoping to encourage children and young adults to read more, give them the gift of going into a bookstore and getting three books for themselves. The decision regarding specific titles is solely up to them. The power of free choice regarding books is priceless.
On the last day of school, my folks used to let me pick out the number of books that equaled my age plus one. What a fabulous way to begin the summer: we continued the tradition with our kids. It’s an affordable investment in the future.
10. I always have a small notebook in my bag to jot down book titles, authors’ names, ideas that I want to explore. The older I get, the more useful this little notebook is.
The bottom line is that once you get hooked on books, there’s an unlimited amount of bound volumes and e-books to discover. It no longer becomes an issue of “Will I find something to read?” but more so, “Will I find enough time to read everything on my wish list?”
Happy Reading—go find a book and fall in love.