Reading for Fun is the Foundation of Literary Appreciation
Reading for fun
Several years ago I came across a book review of the Truth Seekers Mystery Series by Christine and Felice Gerwitz that clearly articulated the natural progression of learning. The review was much more than a simple review — it was an introduction to the art of reading, and it begins with reading for fun.
The reviewer, Magistra Mom, wrote of her own self-education:
“I decided to get to that end point, graduation, I would need to start . . . at the beginning. To do so, I began reading at their level, and worked my way up. I began with simple science readers, juvenile level biographies, and historical fiction. From there, and over a few years, and by joining an amazing book club, I worked my way up to the classics . . .
“As I read “simpler” books, I built up a schema [mental model] within my mind — a whole structure that later, enriched my understanding of more difficult readings. Without . . . these early readers, I would not have the appreciation, nor understanding today as I read classic literature, texts from the past, biographies and diaries, and historical documents.”
Magistra Mom hit the nail on the head — in order to understand and appreciate great literature and advanced nonfiction, you need to start at the beginning. Light reading helps develop skills that are necessary for deeper reading, just as stretches, long walks, and short sprints develop the muscles and stamina needed for running a marathon.
If you are an adult or teen who hasn’t spent time reading for fun, don’t expect to pick up War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy’s 1400-page masterpiece) and fully understand and appreciate it. You need to develop your reading muscles first!
Start with what you like
Don’t be embarrassed to begin with books you really enjoy. If you like mysteries, read mysteries. If you enjoy science fiction and fantasy, start looking for some of the early classics by Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. If you enjoy sports stories or how-to books, read them. Everything you read will enlarge the schema that helps you understand both literature and life.
The key to growth is to build a broad foundation of reading for delight, then gradually move outward to more challenging reading. This doesn’t mean that you give up reading for fun– you simply expand your experience to include other types of reading. As you explore new genres, you’ll find some you enjoy, others you don’t. That’s normal, and perfectly fine.
Even after you begin reading more advanced literature, you’ll dip back into light reading. Just as a steady diet of filet mignon would be both unbalanced and overwhelming, a steady diet of classics can be exhausting. I enjoy mysteries, speculative fiction, travel memoirs, magazines, and home-centered books, and I still learn from them. I even enjoy good middle-grade and young-adult fiction occasionally. Balance is the key!
The truth is that if I hadn’t started at the beginning, I would not be close to where I am today. Starting with easy books is natural when you’re young, but it’s helpful even when you’re an adult. A foundation must be in place before you can build!
Now . . . go read a good book!
You might like “Interesting thought – Most libraries “ban” 99.5% of all books,” on Henry Cate’s blog.