All Your Books Are Belong To Us

So, you guys sick of hearing me wax poetic about how much I love sci-fi/fantasy and all things nerdly yet? NO? Well good, cause I am not shutting up.

First off, I am halfway through my summer class and it’s enough to make a girl cry with happiness. I spent literally my entire weekend highlighting articles, writing outlines, and creating concept maps (with the exclusion of going out for a rockin’ brunch yesterday, at which I ate so much that I think I am still digesting). My brain has been wrung out to dry, and when I get home, I stare mournfully at my bookshelf and dream of reading for pleasure.

Because books, guys. Books are goddamn awesome. Writing is incredible. I have poetry everywhere in my apartment, and post-it notes scattered around with favorite lines of novels. Books are probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

As someone who is only nine months away from being a high school English teacher, that’s not a bad attitude for me to have. What I am about to say is probably a bad thing to say, but hey, screw it.

Our kids are incredibly disinterested in books and reading because there is much more intriguing stuff out there to consume.

Author Blake Charlton writes that boys aren’t as into sci-fi/fantasy anymore, and while I have some disagreements with some of his points, I can’t aggressively disagree.

Bear with me for a second while I go on a tangent. Remember a while back when I ranted about passivity and gender? How boys are generally steered toward “active” entertainment while girls are encouraged to be passive? Little boys are subjects, while little girls are often objects (please accept my blatant over-simplifying and sweeping generalizations; I’m trying to be brief).

So here’s the thing–it is acceptable for girls to read, within reason. Books that are marketed to girls are essentially chickflicks on the page.

The things that are more “boyish” are still not marketed to girls. However, they are not marketed to boys, either. There was a time when my love of sci-fi made me tomboyish. However, the fact that I giggle gleefully at Stephenson’s humor when reading Cryptonomicon no longer makes me tomboyish–it makes me a really big geek. Hard sci-fi and, well, I guess “hard” fantasy (I’m thinking stuff like Dune, Foundation, LOTR, and other classics, as well as newer stuff like George R. R. Martin, if the dude would throw me a bone and publish another book) are seen as dense books for the truly nerdy amongst us.

When we have Cameron throwing out intense 3-D experiences like Avatar (yes, I hated it, but I will not deny what a visually phenomenal experience that movie was) why would people who want to experience other worlds turn to a book? You gotta, like, SQUINT and KNOW WORDS and shit.

Dictionaries: they are pretty damn rad. I wish I could get my students to get that, because getting them to use the dictionary or thesaurus on their assignments is an uphill battle.

Anyways, so we have this triple-edged sword: books are passive things that girls engage with (books are for sissies!), books that aren’t sissy girly books are only for super smart people, and there is other media that doesn’t ask anything of you to take you away to another world.

If boys want to imagine a fantasy world, they can pop in a videogame and not only be IN that world, but interact with it and shape it. They are a character that they control. It’s full-submersion escapism. When we as a culture are progressively more interested in instant gratification, what can compare with being able to push a button and have the world you’re experiencing immediately respond to that? You can interact with the characters, not just watch from the sidelines.

I will confess to occasionally wanting to reach into my books and shake/yell at main characters (*cough* Robert Jordan *cough*).

On top of being “non-interactive,” books make demands of their readers. You have to keep track of characters, plot arcs, politics, fictional worlds, and more, let alone having the vocabulary and grasp on the language to keep up with the author’s writing. Sometimes it can be very challenging to keep up with an author who enjoys complex styles or words. Sometimes you don’t get all the information simply laid out in front of you and you have to–*gasp!*–draw conclusions from inferences and subtleties in the text. Never mind if we get into any sort of math or science or technology; that’s yet another layer of intellectual demands.

I, personally, find all of these things rewarding. I love stumbling upon a word I don’t know, and I have reread individual sentences over and over and over simply to delight in how they were constructed. (Well-crafted writing is just so amazing. I… Uh, is it getting hot here? Anyone?) I love when authors show and don’t tell and let me draw my own conclusions or form my own image of something (would Beowulf has been as powerful if Grendel had been explicitly described?). And if I come out of a reading experience feeling like I’ve learned something neat, well so much the better! The more my brain does somersaults while I read, the more rewarding I find the experience to be.

The keyword there, of course, is “rewarding.”

We engage in behaviors that we find rewarding. Most of my students will get more sense of reward–that is to say, more affirmation from peers and family–through success as an athlete, or even a musician, than they will as a student.

Someone please issue me a cane, a lawn, and some whippersnappers so that I can wave my cane at said whippersnappers to get off my lawn, because I am about to sound really old:

Guys, we really don’t value reading anymore.

Honestly, in many ways, we don’t value education in general. Outside of us teachers, kids are not getting any sort of reward for reading. While there is a degree of personal reward for being a bookworm, the social pressure to NOT be one far outweighs it. The lonely friendless types will turn to books because hey, what else have we got? However, that’s not the case anymore–now there are videogames, that allow kids to interact with others and not feel isolated.

But we’ve already been over girls and gaming and… and…

I am exhausted. I wish I had the faintest notion how to encourage girls to read better books (Twilight, I wish I could fight you. I’d punch you in the face so hard), how to encourage boys to want to read again, and how to make our parents encourage our kids to read instead of sitting around with videogames and shitty movies like Avatar.

But no, I do not have answers.

What I have is a midterm on Friday, and I still have a lot of charts to make.

Instead, after reading Charlton’s post, all I want to do is head to my local bookshop and curl up on the floor of the sci-fi/fantasy section and read for a week straight.

So help me, I will teach a class on sci-fi/fantasy and comics as literature. It’ll be one of my little contributions to saving the world.


07/19/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized.


  1. Caramella replied:

    Amen, amen! I love reading, and get a little obsessive – I’ll read while brushing my teeth. But a recent foray into internet dating has left me horribly disillusioned. I understand that people are busy, and may not find a lot of time for reading, but I find a person’s response to the topic is an instant filter.

    Guy A (While looking at my bookshelf): “Yeah, I don’t really read books.” (in a tone usually reserved for discovering a partner’s taxidermy obsession or clown doll collection)
    Guy B: “I don’t read a lot, but I enjoyed the Harry Potter and Twilight series.” (So at 26, you can still only digest children’s books?)

    I think I’m going to start picking up guys in libraries.

    • Cuppy van der Cake replied:

      I keep hoping to pick up guys in bookstores or libraries, but these days it seems like I don’t even have time to go there! Reactions to bookshelves are a good filter; good luck! 🙂

  2. How To Get A 13-Year-Old Girl To Put Down Twilight. | Galatealize replied:

    […] Get Stuff Done, who I’ve just started to read and admire, wrote a post some time ago about the declining societal value of books and book-based education in a multimedia […]

  3. galatealize replied:

    Great post. I realize I’m totally late to the party, but your line about Twilight set me off on a bit of a tangent. So thank you for that, I hadn’t realized I needed to get this out. 🙂

    It’s interesting to me that you see video gaming as a threat to the societal value of books, but don’t view comic books in the same light. Do you see this as a matter of content, in that comic books have a better chance at some form of literary merit, or is it strictly an argument against a non-print medium?

    I certainly did a lot of my reading within the video games I was playing while I was growing up, but that’s probably dating myself for this conversation a bit. (kids today with their new-fangled voice-acted multi-choice cutscene-skipping rassum frassum, etc.)

    As a gamer and a reader, anyhow, I don’t see very much difference between many video games and most comic books. Both are visually rich with text supplementing, and both give the consumer more control over which comic storylines to follow or where to go in the game plot than a single printed book will.

    PS, reposting for terrible HTML failure. A thousand apologies!

  4. MsMelda replied:

    I’m a little late to this party, but I totally agree with this post.

    As an avid reader, I was most disgusted when my search for a good, solid bookshelf for my flat ended badly. The piddly thing I settled on holds about a third of the overall book hoard, leaving me to feel like I’ve betrayed the books I had to leave at my parents house. It seems to me that while we still have bookstores, we’re gradually losing all the extra bits that come with a hefty book collection. A nice big bookshelf, finding lovely old bookshops where you stub your toe on teetering piles of books stacked on the floor or proudly showing off your latest find.

    I love my books, dammit. It makes me sad that in a few years it might just be that real, solid, paper-and-ink books will be lumped in with video tapes, cassettes and floppy disks. Mildly interesting from an ‘old-hat’ point of view, but ultimately obsolete.

    Twilight. I would gutter-stomp it if I could.

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