January 16, 2012

Reading: Elevation vs. Entertainment

I came across this article today, and the further into it I got, the more I couldn't believe what I was reading. Read for yourself and see what you think about it. And please leave a comment. I'm interested to get other people's takes on this.

I had several issues with this article. But the issue I want to address in this post is this: reading is either for elevation or entertainment. It can't be both (which is false in and of itself). And what really bothered me about it was the context: teens who are reading.

Maybe I'm more sensitive to this because I write YA novels, and teens are my audience. But I would argue (forcefully) that teens need to read for entertainment. Not just should, but need. Teens are at that wonderfully beautiful, awkward stage where they aren't children and they aren't adults. They're figuring out what it means to live and they're starting to figure out just who they might want to become. But they're not ready to become it yet. They're still growing up, and having fun doing it.

And it's in these years that they need to develop a love of reading.

Do you think that forcing on teens the classics: Homer, Shakespeare, the other long-dead authors named in the article, is going to teach them a love of reading? I'd say no. There were some classics that I enjoyed in my teen years, but most of the ones forced upon me in school made me gag. I've come to love them now, but back then? I think part of why I hated them was because I had to read them for school.

I'm not saying classics don't have a place in schools. They must. Using the classics helps teenagers learn to dissect books, find the themes and deeper meanings they might not have seen themselves, learn to delve deeper into what they're reading so they're not just passive participants.

But should we go so far as to say they can only read for elevation and not entertainment? No. If they're trained to think that the only books worth reading are those that "elevate," then they will never develop a life-long love of reading. I think that life-long love is a thousand times more important than to say you read the Odyssey. I mean honestly, who cares? The life-long love is what will allow that teenager, when he grows up, to be able to read just about anything he comes across and understand it and learn from it.

Oh, and Shakespeare wasn't writing to elevate. He was writing to entertain the masses. Just saying.


  1. you make a good point. but honestly, if not for reading for entertainment, why would anyone read? i think you can start out wanting to be entertained, and be elevated as an end product, but one of the few ways i got through high school (and beyond) is reading for entertainment! instilling a love of books and reading while young (seeing as i don't have any kids to test this on yet) i think will help mold those young minds into something that can help the world, if not just themselves.

  2. I agree with you. I read to be both elevated and entertained. There are many books that have changed my life that were strictly books meant to entertain. Dessen, Halse Anderson, Zarr, etc. All of these authors' works have helped shape my opinion of life.

    Reading for entertainment is critical to producing life-long readers. I think he's off the mark.

    But then again I'm also a YA novelist so I could be biased :)