What do you mean if you claim, “I’m a reader”? Is there a magical number of books you need to read each year? Can you actually have other hobbies besides reading? What if reading is part of your job, but you wouldn’t dare pursue it outside of a paid gig?
I like to read books in various genres and about different topics. I read hard books and easy books and picture books. Usually, I have more than one book started at any given time – sometimes up to five or six. I read to escape, to learn, to understand, to laugh, to discover, to explore, to improve. What part of that makes me “a reader”? Or does any of it?
I think when I make the claim to “be a reader” that there are three distinctions that I make. They align under headings of content, action, and growth. One, I choose to read books (content). Two, most of the days on the calendar will find me reading a book or two at some point (action). Three, I read a variety of types of books for a lot of different reasons (growth).
Reading vs. literacy
The first distinction is that I read books. Books as opposed to online articles, magazine journals, Tweets, newspaper blurbs, cereal boxes. I read those too, but if they were all that I read, I wouldn’t identify myself as a reader. I would say that I can read. As in, I know how to read. I am literate. Being literate is different than being a reader.
Not Too Busy to Read
There is also the distinction of doing the actual reading. Yes, I read. I don’t just love books or buy books or collect books. I read books.
If given a day of free time I will spend a portion of it reading a book. When given a day with very little free time, I will spend a portion of it reading a book. When exercising, I will gravitate towards whatever option allows me to read a book while doing it. I read books in the bathroom (sometimes, not all the time, but gosh darn it if it isn’t quiet), at my desk, in the car (when I’m not driving), and, in doctor’s office waiting rooms. I am not too busy to read.
The last distinction speaks to a maturing of content and motives as adults read. It is this last distinction that stands out to me as most critical in the definition of being “a reader.”
Reading as a Child
We expect children to move from board books to picture books to chapter books and into a range of other reading options. This is because they are maturing and their worlds are expanding. They can handle more complex themes, and they can begin to make connections between the words they are reading and the reality they are experiencing.
Children, hopefully, start to see that expectation and imagination are tools of empowerment facilitated by reading. If they continue in their reading and exploring a range of subjects they will, hopefully, grow to understand that being empowered prepares them to confront their world with these tools.
Reading as an Adult
Adults who read should continue to mature in their reading material as well as their motives for reading. Often I hear of adults who read to escape. This is a fantastic aspect of reading, but it is not the only one.
There are so many different reasons to read: to escape, to indulge, to learn, to understand, to be uncomfortable, to solve a mystery, to challenge what you think you know, or to explore a new place or idea.
Reading as an adult is not a destination. There’s nothing wrong with having favorite books. It is good to read and reread and reread favorites. It is even good and normal to have a favorite genre of book to read. But, if you don’t read outside of those boundaries, you will limit your expectations of life and your capacity to imagine life.
Ostracizing oneself from all other types of stories dulls the tools of expectation and imagination that we claim are so necessary for childhood.
Read diversity in genres, diversity in authors, diversity in themes and plots. You don’t need to make a chart, celebrate a special day, or otherwise accentuate your choice. You definitely don’t need to agree with everything you read—read it anyway. Follow recommendations and suggestions, whims and periods of intense study.
The more I read the more general areas of interest I discover. I have several “themes” that have emerged from my reading in the past couple years. In ten years it may be that one or two have stuck around; more probable is that I will have ditched a few and added different themes and interests.
What Do You Think?
This is the beauty of reading. It can take you anywhere, and you’re in charge. If you like reading and stick to one genre, you are a literate passenger in one subdivision of books. If you’re a reader, you’re in the driver’s seat through histories and galaxies of worlds.
Did I forget anything else? What would you add or subtract from the definition? What do you mean when you say you’re a “reader”?