A Little More Gravy

Last month, a woman I’ve known for 10 years threw out a sentence that knocked me right off my literary high horse :  I don’t read, she said.  In fact, I haven’t read a novel since high school.  We’d been on our way out to dinner when I mentioned I’d gotten Alexandra Styron’s memoir in the mail and couldn’t wait to get home to start reading it.  It’s about growing up as William Styron’s daughter.  And Styron is my hero, I’d said, only to get the response:  I don’t know who William Styron is.  Is he an athlete?

How can you be a 60 year old, professional woman, a leader in your field, and not read?

Of course, I’ve heard the likes of this before.  A professor friend asked his American Lit class, by way of introductions, to go around the room and talk about the best book they’d read over the summer.  They were stumped; they hadn’t read a thing.  But you’re English majors! he said. An old friend heard I’d written a short story and asked me to send it to her, only to fire a note back saying, That’s not short.  That’s 20 pages long!  My own sister-in-law once informed me she’d never made it more than a few pages into any book.  Why would you spend days and days reading a book when you can watch a whole movie in two hours?

Looking back on it, the month of May was a literary blur for me.  I didn’t do so well with the reading myself.  I started no less than 25 books and couldn’t close the deal on most of them.  It was hard for me to settle in with a good story and finish it.  And it seemed like nonreaders — like those mentioned above — were coming out of the woodwork.  It made me wonder:  are we nose-in-a-book folks really that far buried in our libraries that we can’t see the other side?  This article from The Economist titled IN DEFENSE OF NOT READING offers this take on nonreaders:  Any educated American has already read enough books. Everything else you read is gravy, and hitching your wagon to the so-called dumbing down of society argument merely lends your voice to the shrill chorus of others throughout history who thought they were smarter than everybody else. 

I don’t buy the argument, but I thought about it as I watched a replay of Sarah Palin’s Paul Revere gaffe in Boston yesterday.  I’m no Sarah Palin fan, and I’ve been known to use the words “dumbing down” while talking about her.  She has no business in national politics; she can barely string a coherent sentence together.  But after watching this 30 second clip a few times, I felt sorry for her.  Then I suddenly realized that all I could remember about Paul Revere was The British are coming!  The British are coming! and I panicked.  I found myself Googling him and quick-reading his Wikipedia page.

Looks like Sarah and I could both use a little more gravy.

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29 thoughts on “A Little More Gravy

  1. Les

    I have an admission: I’ve never read William Styron. I know, I know. Now that you’ve stopped cringing, which first?

    1. Teri Post author

      Sophie’s Choice might well be my #1 favorite book. People avoid it because they think it’s all about the Holocaust, but it’s really about Stingo (a thinly disguised veil of the real Styron as a young writer in NYC) and what he learns from her.

      No cringing here. I’ve never really read The Great Gatsby or any Hemingway. Which means I skimmed them enough to get through school. See, you can cringe now….

  2. macdougalstreetbaby

    I only recently became a reader. I’m not proud to admit it but for whatever reason, books were never my priority. I was always out on the street, where the action was. I only came home to sleep. I watch my husband (and my children for that matter) devour anything with words and I’m envious. It doesn’t come naturally for me. I wish it did because I see there’s comfort in stories. There’s comfort in the escape.

    I remember you saying Sophie’s Choice was your all time favorite book and put it down on my TBR list. Would you believe me if I told you I never read To Kill a Mockingbird? I just got it from the library and read the first paragraph. I’ve heard so much about this Boo Radley character. I’m psyched to finally meet him.

    Try not to judge us non-readers too harshly. I think we’re ashamed enough.

    1. Teri Post author

      No judgment here, MSB. I’m pretty short on the to-be-read list myself. I look at folks who’ve read all of the Russians, for example, and think, When did you have time to do that?! Probably while I was watching full days of reruns of Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and ER.

  3. lizisilver

    I can’t imagine a life without books; I just can’t. But here’s my shameful confession: I loved the movie Atonement. Hated the book (Ian McEwan).

    I’d like to comment on the Economist argument but I haven’t simmered down enough from reading that ridiculous waste of space to compose a cogent opinion.

    1. Teri Post author

      It’s not that you “have to” read or “have to” play sports or “have to” do anything. But why anyone ever says, don’t bother to read, don’t bother with school, why try a sport, baffles my mind.

      By the way, the person in the blog who said Why read when you can watch a movie? She’s a teacher.

  4. Averil Dean

    My husband is a non-reader, and I find the concept mystifying. He points out that he does in fact read. Blogs, lots of blogs. That’s not nothing. But it’s a far cry from the immersive experience of getting lost in a good book.

  5. Sherry Stanfa-Stanley

    Teri, this subject is so near and dear to my heart. I wrote a draft blog post about non-readers just last month, but couldn’t quite get it to say exactly what I wanted, so I mothballed it.

    I have no issue with people who simply admit they don’t read (no judgements here at all, MSB). What bothers me is when someone says they don’t have TIME to read. Because that’s bullshit.

    Even the busiest of us makes time for what is personally important to us. It’s like me saying I don’t have time to exercise. Ha. I’d like to believe that’s God’s honest truth, but the fact is I just don’t make it a priority. Most people who love to read find snippets of time to do so: whether it’s in place of an hour of prime time TV or listening to audiobooks on their daily office commute.

    As for the idea that people have already read all they have to read? That’s like saying we’ve drunk all the water we need. Personally, I’d like to enjoy a few drops a day for the rest of my life.

    1. Teri Post author

      Thanks, Sherry. You said it so much better that I did! “That’s like saying we’ve drunk all the water we need.” How perfect is that.

  6. lisahgolden

    The list of books I haven’t read is enormous. The list of books I’ve read is fair to middling. I went for years without reading when time wasn’t my friend and other priorities got in the way, but now I find myself wanting to get home so I can read.

    As for the former Gov. of Alaska, the thing that bothers me isn’t the dumbing down of society, but the elevation of anti-intellectualism.

    1. Lyra

      “the elevation of anti-intellectualism” is in fact my new favorite phrase. I’m sure the gentlemen at work will thank you for it…

  7. Les

    I pulled the trigger on a 1st ed. of Sophie’s Choice on Amazon for $38.50. Said in “like new” condition, so I’m hoping that’s accurate. Just seemed like a nice addition to my library.

    1. Teri Post author

      You’ve made a fine investment. What a work of art. The 3rd time I read it I was in Sam Maio’s class — he said, while you’re reading, keep track of ALL the decisions Sophie makes. What a list it was. I’d never even noticed them all before.

      Nothing like a good teacher ….

  8. Lyra

    It isn’t the fact that people don’t read. I have never, in my entire life, seen my mother pick up a book. They are mystified by my desire to read as much as I am by their desire not to.

    What gets me, is the pride involved (not with my parents, it’s a nonissue), as if reading is a pursuit akin to playing polo for the well-to-do, affected wealthy, so to denounce it shows how down-to-earth you are.

    I don’t understand what happened that reading became something so fraught with judgement. Even the people who do read, get hyper sensitive about what they admit to reading. Why is that?

    I don’t understand a world where doing something you enjoy because you get a kick out of stories would be any sort of judgement call whatsoever.

    Then again, I’m a reader, so maybe my lack of understanding is inherent.

    1. Deb

      This is so true! I’m finally starting to run into some folks who are avid readers, read all over the board and are not afraid to admit it.

      1. Lyra

        when I moved to Chicago, the greatest hardship came when I went to a diner and asked for fries and gravy. First I got a perplexed look, then came the question, what kind?

        I should have known then…

        It’s the brown kind. It’s also the only kind you’ll get when you order it anywhere in NY.

        Last meal? Absolutely.

  9. Laura

    I thought I had already commented on this post last week, but it looks like I didn’t — I think I was temporarily frozen by thinking of how many people I know in my life who don’t read. This includes many very bright people, but it’s the teachers who don’t read that bothers me the most.

    It makes me sad. But what makes me sadder are the days when I’m tired or down and end up watching stupid TV shows online all night instead of reading or writing — because I see how easy it really is to simply not read.

    1. Teri Post author

      Oh Laura, your last sentence is so true it hurts. As much as I read, I also waste way more time than I can keep track of.

  10. Deb

    Oh gosh, you’ve hit a nerve with me! Where’s Jess? Not reading is being taught from an early age. Kids are learning to have no attention span. Many parents I know schedule every minute of the week for their kids. Then they sit down and do their homework for them. Kids are flitting from one place to the next and don’t know how to just be. How can you sit and read a book with that mindset? I know I’ve oversimplified this, but I’m due somewhere and I could rant about this for an hour!

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