Reading is not a hobby

My Vietnamese friend told me that she doesn’t like reading. “I’m sorry that you didn’t have a successful reading experience just yet,” I replied compassionately. I think she didn’t understand.

Prof. Stephen Krashen said that if someone picked a book by himself (“self-selected reading”), and read it in his own account, finished and enjoyed reading it, this counts as a successful reading experience; and usually turns that person into someone who enjoys reading.

But which book to choose? And from where?

For example, if you’ve been to Vietnam before you know that there’s hardly any books to be seen; even less newspapers or magazines. People in Vietnam usually don’t read. There’s only very few public libraries (and even the largest ones are rather poorly equipped), and only few bookstores, and only in the major cities, and all of them seem to only carry the same, generic bestseller titles. In addition there’s small coffee shops (so called “book cafes”) and thrift stores that display a couple dozen used paperback books, oftentimes in poor condition. But at least there you might find the one or other interesting, off the mainstream title, left behind by a traveller.

The University of Science Library has only a few bookshelves with dated volumes, despite being one of the largest libraries in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, with the city having a population of close to 9 million

“The research supports the commonsense view that when books are readily available, when the print environment is enriched, more reading is done. A print-rich environment in the home is related to how much children read; children who read more have more books in the home.” – Excerpt from »The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research« by Prof. Stephen Krashen

The availability of books is a major factor for any society. Just like the availability of transportation, or … clean air and water. And there’s a lot to be said about compulsory education, indoctrination and brainwashing, alignment of the population, the presence or lack of critical thinking skills and the striving for self-education, and so forth.

Just for example, in my home country, Austria, there’s many huge, beautiful bookstores, often two stories high or higher, with thousands and thousands of titles, and also many smaller bookstores with rare titles or a wide selection of local writers. But, just for example, in all those bookstores there’s usually no titles about Covid (other than mainstream titles that write about how stupid—or outright dangerous—people who don’t get vaccinated are) and certainly no titles about the history of the Covid vaccines and their political background. These books do exist, plenty, but they are not on the shelves; and therefore people usually don’t know about them, and don’t read them. However, contrary to Vietnam, in Europe there’s online bookstores with an extremely wide selection of books, and people can order those books online, and next to ebooks can receive actual paperback or hardcover copies within days of ordering.

So, to cut a long blog post short: according to Professor Stephen Krashen and what we know about reading there’s two things that make a child an avid reader:

  1. Children are provided with substantial access to books.
  2. Children read books that they select themselves.

As I see it, reading is not a hobby. Instead, reading is something we humans do, like listening or looking. But we only like to listen and look if there’s something interesting to listen to or to look at. Likewise, we only read if there’s something interesting available to read, actually.

And that’s one of the reasons I myself wrote a few books (three or so) in easy-to-read language about sensorimotor-education and Feldenkrais-inspired movement sequences. A book with pictures and speech bubbles on them, and easy to read blocks of text in between. And one book made from posts of this very blog. But of course, these books are a bit “different” than regular books. And they are not on the shelves in the bookstores either. Therefore only people who self-select books online can find them. Maybe one day I should produce a book that’s mainstream enough to be fit for mainstream media and will sit on the shelves in the big bookstores, too.