After spending the afternoon reading so I could avoid writing (nothing like reading for making you feel like you’re being constructive when you’re goofing off), I got on the computer with the goal of getting to work on my novel. Of course, I checked email and Facebook first, just to see if there was something else I could do to avoid work.
On Facebook I stumbled across a link to an article in Salon on writers who don’t read, which was inspired by this one from The New Yorker. I was shocked. Could writers who don’t read be a trend? Just how big is the problem? I wanted to know more, so I went back and read the articles carefully, looking for the facts.
It turns out that The New Yorker article was based on statements by writer William Giraldi, who also teaches writing. He said that he has students who have a passionate urge to write but no urge to read. The Salon article is also about Giraldi’s comments and doesn’t quote from any other writing teachers. But both pieces assume that writing without reading is a real phenomenon.
In The New Yorker piece, Macy Halford observes:
What is wanting to write without wanting to read like? It’s imperative that we figure it out, because Giraldi’s right: it’s both crazy and prevalent among budding writers.
The pervasiveness of social networking corrodes the ability of words to bestow the enchantment of solitude. Being alone is not so much considered a freedom or luxury anymore, especially among teenagers. It’s a punishment.
Neither article includes any evidence at all beyond Giraldi’s statements. They don’t even cite any other writing teachers with similar opinions, much less any statistical studies of aspiring writers showing how many read. Despite the fact that they only cite one teacher’s experience, both Halford and Poole obviously believe this is settled fact.
Judging by the response on Facebook, they’re not alone in their belief. But near as I can tell, the only evidence of this growing body of writers who don’t read is purely anecdotal and comes from writing teachers.
Back in my school days, the students all bitched about their teachers. Guess what? Teachers bitch about their students, too. I’m sure some of those complaints are real; I’m sure many students do not live up to their teachers’ expectations. But I’m not convinced that the fact that some writing teachers have been cursed with poor students means that reading is dying out among those who seriously aspire to a writing career.
I know a lot of writers, young and old, but I don’t know any who don’t read. Of course, that’s anecdotal evidence, too. It’s not proof of anything except the fact that my experience differs from Giraldi’s.
Still, before anyone declares non-reading writers to be a trend, I’d like to see a little evidence that there’s a real problem. I suspect this is just another iteration of “these kids today.” Maybe it’s just me, but I can remember when the older generation said that about us.
Flashes of Illumination, a collection of my short-short fiction, is now available here from Book View Cafe. This 52-story ebook collects the flash fiction I published weekly during the first year of Book View Cafe, and adds in a few later stories as well.
My novella Changeling remains available as an ebook through Book View Cafe. It’s a coming of age story.
Both books are $2.99 and available in four DRM-free formats: mobi, epub, prc, and pdf.