I love to read — I always have. It’s my preferred brand of escapism. I’m able to get lost in fiction for hours at a time and live vicariously through the stories in a way that can’t be matched through any other medium.
That said, the perception that reading is a step above all other forms of entertainment is hogwash. It’s outdated and at odds with reality. Reading is not inherently educational in itself. And however much I tend to connect intellectually with other book nerds, I’ve come to terms with the fact that we are no smarter or better than anyone else (although I still suspect we are sexier).
Here’s the deal:
1) For centuries, we’ve refused to let go of the idea that owning and reading books is a status symbol.
Back before the printing press was invented, even the middle class could barely write their own names, and therefore literacy was considered a badge of great status. An ability to read, let alone a collection of books, was a clear sign of wealth and social standing, and, as is the nature of many status symbols, it was used to disenfranchise the lower classes. This persisted through emancipation and beyond. But for whatever reason, even after all these centuries have passed, all our free libraries have opened, and our current literacy rate hovers in the single digits, we still exalt reading as this high-class activity. And thus, many dickheads who aspire to be stuck-up snobs pick up reading because it feels obligatory. These also happen to be the loud and obnoxious types who spout Dostoevsky quotes and vocally look down on anyone who watches TV or plays video games, so they totally give the rest of us bookworms a bad rap.
Speaking of video games:
2) People who play video games are, in certain ways, smarter than people who prefer to read.
Don’t throw a shit fit; the key phrase here is “in certain ways” — I’m not in any way discounting the knowledge one can gain from reading. I don’t “get” video games nor have I ever had any desire to, so if anything I should be biased against them. However, the smarts I’m referring to include reflex time, strategic thinking, attention, and hand-eye coordination, all of which are heavily practiced by your average gamer. For example, I’ve noticed that people who’ve played a lot of first-person shooters tend to have lightning-fast reflexes, whether they’re driving, playing foosball, or catching every wine glass I knock over. I know, I know — correlation doesn’t imply causality — but you don’t get good at Counterstrike without spending hours upon hours (or years upon years) improving your reaction times.
Another example is RPGs in the context of strategic thinking. Yes, I’ve read The Prince and various WWII books, so I can spout off anecdotes about why certain military strategies worked or didn’t, but they mainly just take up space in my head. From what I know of RPGs, though, it’s like playing chess: players spend hours trying out various strategies and refining them through trial and error, and by being active participants, their brains are constantly practicing foresight, tactical planning, etc.
I think we can all agree that these are all skills worth honing. That said, there are still some pretty sweet perks to being a reader that you probably won’t much like. For better and worst:
3) Children who like to read can get away with murder.
Almost. Okay, this was never so much of a problem as it was a gift to my existence, but I still need to call it out.
Background: I come from an overprotective family. How overprotective? Well, I couldn’t watch Rated R movies until I was 15. But when I stepped into a bookstore, there was no one to stop me. How many parents read the back of their kids’ book covers to make sure their kid didn’t stumble upon post-apocalyptic gay erotica? (And I totally did.)
When I was 9, I found a book called Go Ask Alice. I don’t remember the exact plot, but I’m pretty sure it was about a homeless 13-year old girl that traded blowjobs for coke, prostituted herself for heroin money, and then committed suicide. In summary: quite the role model.
And the best part? I’d read Go Ask Alice and other such books right under my mother’s nose. She was probably sitting five feet from me on an armchair during the pivotal chapters where Alice is snorting lines off her dealer’s butt or getting a coat hanger abortion or something.
Had I been more into TV, had I tried to get away with playing mildly violent video games, I would have been censored. I never would’ve gotten the access to all the NSFW shit kids want so badly at that age. But the library was the wild wild west, a land where all-seeing Mom did not roam (because she chose to assume that all reading is good reading). And it was awesome.