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Being a "Proud Non-Reader"?

As much as it pains me to mention Kanye West on my blog at all, I just can’t help pointing this out. Kanye is, apparently, a proud non-reader. Interestingly enough, he’s also an author of a new book.

In an interview about his book, Kanye “eloquently” pointed out…

Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed… I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph. I am a proud non-reader of books. I like to get information from doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life.

Ignoring how just plain sad that is, how dumb do you have to be to advocate non-reading when you’re promoting your own book?

Jeff Hobbs at The Millions has a great open letter response to this that I suggest reading. My favorite quote from his response was this one,

Just a heads-up here: Not only does the inherent irony at play in these words make you appear unintelligent, which you obviously aren’t, but you have also undermined the privilege of living in a country in which we can read anything and everything we choose or, as in your unfortunate case, nothing at all. Though you may be a self-proclaimed “proud non-reader,” surely you cannot be proud of rallying others to follow you in this non-ambition.

Later, Hobbs has an especially beautiful paragraph about how we engage with text and the experience of reading, but I won’t quote it so I can persuade you to read the whole letter yourself.

While I was pretty disgusted about Kanye’s attitude, it also got me thinking about some of the other non-readers in my life. I’ve never seen my dad read a book, for example, and Boyfriend doesn’t really get why I read so much because he rarely reads a book by choice. Certainly, no one I know is quite as ignorant as Kanye appears, but I know plenty of people who rarely read a book or like making excuses about why they just don’t have the time/energy/interest in reading. Sometimes I get that, and sometimes it just astounds me.

Do you know any proud non-readers? What excuses do they give you for why they don’t read? What are your responses?

Photo by flickr user accent on eclectic

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Steph June 11, 2009, 8:27 am

    This is a great post (even if the content is sad). I do agree that it’s pretty ironic for Kanye to talk about how he doesn’t read when promoting his own book (why did he write one in the first place if he thinks books are a waste of time)? Also, I think his whole notion that people who read books are getting an artificial experience or are missing out on life is really unfortunate. Reading has the capacity to expose us to so many different perspectives and ideas that we might otherwise NEVER encounter in real life (any book that has a fantastical or historical bent, for example). I think reading really enriches our lives and gives us a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world around us.

    But I guess at the end of the day, reading is a hobby for most people, and some people aren’t going to enjoy doing it. I mean, some people really like to play golf, and they have their reasons for it, I’m sure, but it doesn’t interest me at all. I always think that if someone claims to hate reading then they just haven’t found the right book yet, but in the end, I won’t force the issue so long as they don’t get between me and my books! 😉

  • Vasilly June 11, 2009, 9:44 am

    I shook my head reading Kanye’s quote. With the literacy rate in this country being so low and the high school dropout rate so high, it’s so sad that he was ignorant enough to say it. Not everyone call be a multi-millionaire. For most of us education is the key to success in life.

    I read the article in The Millions and loved it.

    Except for my kids, everyone else in my life is a non-reader. Being a avid reader, it’s gets lonely so I’m glad that I have blogging friends to discuss books and reading too. My non-readers just say they don’t like it. That doesn’t stop me from buying them books for their birthdays and holidays.

  • Heather June 11, 2009, 9:57 am

    My son rarely picks up a book, unless its about a musician, but he is reading all the time, usually online. My daughter writes stories online with several friends. So they may not fit the definition of ‘reader’ but they do their share of reading. My nephew falls asleep when a novel hits his hands, but give him the technical specs on a weapon and he’s up all hours.

    I had read the interview earlier and was left shaking my head.

  • Amanda June 11, 2009, 10:23 am

    Wow, I was really flabbergasted by Kanye’s statements. I read the whole response as well and I couldn’t agree with that perspective more. I myself come from a family of avid readers, me, two brothers, both parents, extended family, and now my niece who is just starting to read on her own, all read for the fun of it.

    I know a few people who don’t read novels, but do partake in other forms of reading material be it online or newspapers etc., who prefer more non-fiction material to fiction. I also know that in discussing books that I’ve read and interesting things that I’ve learned with them, despite their somewhat non-reader status sometimes intrigues them enough to at least give the book a try.

    I contribute my grasp of the English language, my ever increasing vocabulary, and my vivid imagination to all of the probably thousands of books I’ve read since I was taught to figure out letters and words and finally sentences on a page.

    I do believe that Kanye’s thoughts on interacting with people and learning that was is valuable, but I believe much more that a balance between book learning and social learning is more appropriate.

    Thanks for sharing this post though, it really opened my eyes to a clearly differing viewpoint and I look forward to the discussions it will bring forth.

  • Ali (Worducopia) June 11, 2009, 2:04 pm

    Most of the people I know are readers, though most claim not to have time to read as much as they want. I know plenty of people who proudly say, “I don’t read fiction.” They think it has no point. They do read nonfiction, though. And my mom rarely reads a book cover to cover, though she browses through them a lot and takes regular trips to the library. She also read to me a ton when I was a kid, so she really instilled the love of reading in me. It wasn’t until I was much older that it struck me that she didn’t read for herself in the same way she had always read for me.

  • Valerie June 11, 2009, 6:42 pm

    I think some people don’t read because maybe they’re dyslexics or just did not get a good enough reading education in school to be able to enjoy reading.

    So, reading isn’t for everyone. I can live with that. But I think it’s sad when people (like Kanye) either brag that they’re non-readers, or make fun of people who love to read.

  • Christine June 12, 2009, 6:45 am

    My boyfriend reads very little — well, like many mentioned above he reads things online, but he doesn’t read books. Part of the reason for this is that he’s quite dyslexic, and for him a book has to be pretty spectacular to be worth the effort that goes into reading it.

    We do read together sometimes, though, where I’ll read out loud and he’ll listen. That’s nice.

  • Eva June 12, 2009, 10:58 am

    “I like to get information from doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life.”

    Even though I think it’s sad he’s a non-reader, I also understand where he’s coming from. For people who don’t love books, they don’t realise how you can be swept away to different worlds, different lives, just by reading! And it is, by its nature, a more solitary activity, so I can see why it would be perceived as anti-social.

    Of course I don’t agree with him, but I’ve had people close to me make this argument before. I always have to reassure people that I do in fact have a life outside of reading. 😉

  • Elizabeth Moon June 12, 2009, 5:42 pm

    A good friend, fellow graduate of an excellent university, does not read for pleasure. She is intelligent; she is capable; she is everything you’d expect a reader to be…but she doesn’t read much at all (she does read online, about computer stuff.) She reads my books because they’re my books–she likes getting the new ones as birthday or Christmas presents–but they don’t really interest her.

    She plays bridge (which I find boring) and besides doing web design interacts with a lot of people on the internet. She would rather deal with people directly or online than read a book.

    I wouldn’t say she’s a “proud” nonreader…she’s never put down reading, she read to both her kids and one of them, at least, became an avid reader. But reading just isn’t a great part of her life.

  • gautami tripathy June 14, 2009, 8:43 am

    And how does he expect us to pick his book?

  • Wendy June 14, 2009, 9:37 am

    Great post, Kim! I laughed at the Kayne quote – he supports his non reading position by not being able to form a grammatically correct sentence. Sad.

    Most people I know are readers (I come from a family of people who love words in general – Scrabble players, crossword puzzlers, etc…). But once in awhile when someone learns I have a book blog or discovers my stacks of books everywhere in my home…they make a negative comment: “How do you have time to do that?” Or “Are you really going to read all those books?” What they do not seem to understand is that reading is like breathing to me…I can’t NOT do it.

  • Louise June 14, 2009, 12:35 pm

    This made me think of another bit I saw somewhere online, it being a blog, facebook, twitter, I cannot remember. But it was Posh Spice aka Victoria Beckham who claimed that she had never read a book – and this was in an interview about…..her own book, she had just finished writing. Errrr???!!!

    I think it is perfectly fine if you are not interested in reading, I also think it is fine if you are proud about it. I mean, I am proud I don’t care much for….lets say bullfighting, which may be a much loved hobby fo the next person.

    What is not fine is that Kanye West is probably a role model for gazillions of young people worldwide, and he should know that while books and reading may no be everyone’s cup of tea (which, again, is fine) there is NO WAY that ANYONE can get out of the sheer fact that reading is a very important factor, no matter if we like reading or not. We are lucky to live in a part of the world, where the literacy is high, and its because of that (and other factors as well of course) that we are living in the societies we are.

    To be able to read is KNOWLEDGE and KNOWLEDGE is POWER – ask any person from a third world country where iliteracy abounds……why does the people in power keep their minons from learning to read?

    I realize that there are people who has trouble reading and thus choose not to read for those reasons – this is not aimed at them.

    I wanted to write more, but am about to cook dinner 😉

  • Violet June 15, 2009, 5:29 am

    One of my friends read a very popular book here in India and said he loved it. I said I didn’t like it so much, it’s a non-reader’s book and I did not mean it in a book snob way, although it might have come across as that. But anyway, he was offended 🙂

    He said I am not to call him a non-reader under any circumstances even if he does not read much 🙂 So no, I don’t know any proud non-reader and it makes me sad to think there are a few.

    I’m sure any of the readers are not going to read his book.

    Nice post!!!

  • theorist June 16, 2009, 12:52 pm

    What’s a book’s autograph?

  • Kim L June 17, 2009, 9:26 pm

    Great, great response. I don’t even know how to respond to the stupidity that was Kanye’s comment, because the blogger you linked to summed it up so nicely.

    I have plenty of friends and acquaintances who don’t read as much as I do, but I can’t think of anyone who would claim they are proud to be a non-reader. What is the point of education if you can’t use it once in a while?

  • Jeanne June 19, 2009, 2:24 pm

    My students, in a required humanities course at a small liberal arts college, are rarely readers. Every once in a while I actually turn them on to reading (usually with some easy-to-read YA title like Feed or Cycler).

    On the beach in Nice, France, most of the people who are reading have tabloid newspapers and magazines. The British girls near me today dissected a story in OK! in great detail.

    So many people who don’t read much are afraid of “hard” books. I think it’s partly because of H.S. teachers who ask questions about the “significance” of this or that, meaning “I see this as significant, so you guess why.”

  • Timothy J June 25, 2009, 4:45 pm

    Asside from Kanye’s arrogance I probably relate more with his statement than with the rest of the posts here. I’m more of an ’embarrassed’ non-reader myself, but even so, I have occasionally been somewhat boastfull about not reading, perhaps in trying to allieviate my insecurity (moreso than mask it.) I am sometimes painfully envious of people that get great joy out of reading.

    I am wondering if maybe it is worth considering that reading does not have to be a major part of someones life for that person to be well rounded, successful, talented, inteligent, educated, imaginative, confident, moral, etc. And what I’m talking about mostly here is recreational reading- but even non-fiction.

    I do frequently find myself reading non-fiction material to fulfill an interest or curiosity, but even with that I am often statisfied with a cursory (qwiki) understanding of those subjects i.e. string theory. And even the things that interest me more deeply, like Old Time music, and music of Appalachia I still know very little about.

    I crave human and environmental interactions way moreso than books, and from my perspective, we are lacking in those things nowadays more than we are books.


    ps. I am (not spitefully) responding to the casting of judgement towards us poor non-readers, who, I believe to have integrity without books.

  • Platypus February 18, 2013, 11:31 am

    Kayne West does sound silly saying he is a proud non-reader, especially since he was promoting a book at the time. And he does come off as ignorant by not speaking is grammatically correct sentences. I pity him that he finds no pleasure in reading. But I do agree with Timothy J about not having different things to do in school. I also think there is too much pressure for everyone to go to college when that may no be what you want to do.