How do you react when you run into a person who says that they don’t read? I know it’s incredibly shocking and the urge to explain the joys of reading to them is overwhelming, but I’ve started doing something else.
I ask them if they know what the Raven said. They might not be able to tell me who wrote the poem but so far everyone who claimed to be a nonreader knew that the Raven said nevermore. There are just some literary facts that are so well known even self-professed nonreaders know them.
Below are three reasons why nonreaders might be more familiar with literature than they think, along with some questions I’m sure nonreaders could answer. If you think of any more add them in the comments below.
Who is Sherlock’s sidekick?
Name one of Shakespeare’s play?
Who is one character Alice meets in Wonderland?
Sort of like how people know the Raven said nevermore, part of the reason that nonreaders know so much about books they haven’t read is because of constant reproduction. Some facts stay in our culture because movies, television, and people are constantly reproducing or referencing literary works. Just looking at the example of Sherlock Holmes. Over 70 different actors have played the famous detective over the years. These facts stay so well know because they have so much life outside of their written work.
What does the Scarlet Letter represents?
What is Lolita about?
Do you know what it means when someone says you’re acting like a Jekyll and Hyde?
There are some books that we haven’t read but still somehow know everything about because words enter our lexicon from books all the time. If someone says a girl is a Lolita, people have an idea in mind even if they haven’t read that book by Nabokov. Call someone a Scrooge and they know to get offended. Meaning gets transmitted through language often enough for people to pick up the gist of something without ever picking up a book.
Do you know a line from Moby Dick?
Or a Robert Frost poem?
Or one of the rules of fight club?
Quotes are all around us. I personally don’t know the science behind why people love quotes so much, but I know that if you’re a nonreader hanging out with a reader eventually you’re going to hear quotes from some literature. Whether your friends claim those words as their own is another thing. So along the way nonreaders might pick up the fact that “Call me Ishmael” is from Moby Dick or could recite “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” without knowing any context. It’s just part of the price you pay for dealing with readers. Thank us later.
So, the next time someone tells you they don’t read see it as an opportunity to find out just how much they know about literature. It might produce a more interesting conversation than just asking them why they don’t read. But seriously… Why don’t they read? Why?