A Direct Assault On 5 Pernicious Cop Outs

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.

Through the course of running this site I have heard some interesting feedback from readers and paid more attention to the excuses offered by those who would read, or would read more, but don’t. I think it’s worth taking some of these excuses on.

I’ve dabbled in being a non-reader. I went through periods, particularly after law school, where I didn’t read much at all. I’ve used some of these excuses myself. From personal experience I can tell you they’re all just pernicious cop outs.

“I am not smart enough to read.”

Genius Is Not a Prerequisite to Reading. The intellect you have when you come to a book means less than the experiences you bring to bear on your interpretation. It is a misconception that being a reader means being smart. One may eventually lead to the other the way the practice of any discipline sharpens the edge of intellect, but one is not a prerequisite for the other. To anyone that claims that they must be “more intelligent” to read, I say that’s like saying you must be more fit to start exercising. You’ll get no where with that attitude.

“I can’t afford to buy books.”

Access to Books is No Longer an Excuse. We have instant, cheap, and even free access to books of all difficulty levels. Libraries, Free Kindle reads, and friends looking for an excuse to lend books are valid ways to eliminate this mindset. Many have written here about their joy of reading children’s books. Start there, if you’re too intimidated by the rest. Work your way up the ladder enjoying each serene and rich rung as you climb. My bet is you can find a stash of children’s books in most attics in your city. Garage sales will be well stocked as well (they do have those in states other than Texas, right?). If you can’t find a free book, mention me on twitter @readlearnwrite and I will make a recommendation to a free book or send you one of my own.

“I don’t have the time to read.”

The Time to Read is Available if You Create It. To those that say they have no time to read, I don’t believe you. We all have the time and capacity to enjoy books. If you have time to watch TV you have time to read. If you have children you can read to your children and both be the better for it. If you have a lazy no good spouse make the time to explain in awkward conversation your passion for reading and if they don’t understand then simplify your life by deciding to be yourself and do something you enjoy despite what others may think. If you have to wait in line during the day, carry a small book or slip of poem in your pocket.

“I won’t understand what I read.”

Our Various Interests and Experiences Make Our Reading Experiences Unique. One of the things that worries me is when I hear people explain that they don’t read because they’re not going to “get it” anyway, so why bother. This is bull. There is no “getting it.” Your reading is just as good as a literary critics because you brought your own personal experience with you and deployed it to interpret the book through the lens of your life. We need your reading, your understanding, every bit as much as we need a critic’s.

“I read too slow.”

There is No Such Thing as Reading Too Slow. A brilliant sentence could be the subject of a lifetime of study. If you’re worried about how slow you read you can start one sentence from one poem. Read it thirty-two times and commit it to memory. Then, spend thirty-two minutes thinking about that sentence. When you’re ready to move on, move on, but don’t worry if that is the only sentence you read today.

Excuses are dangerous because they start to make sense. They burrow in deep and get rationalized to the point of being second nature. That’s why I’d rather take some of these head on, at the risk of offending someone, than let them continue to work their way into the depths of our minds.

What reading “excuses” have you overcome?

Photo by Paul Jarvis.


  1. Francine Garson @francinegarson

    My personal favorite is “I don’t have time to read.” Well, I don’t have time to exercise!

  2. Brandon

    I’ve used that one myself. It’s easy to say that on a busy day, but we can all find 15 minutes somewhere, right? I guess the problem arises when we need 15 minutes to read, 15 minutes to write, and 15 minutes to exercise and all of a sudden we get a bit overwhelmed.

    It sometimes helps me to break it down to, “I’ll just start.”

  3. Delia (Postcards from Asia)

    “I don’t have time to read” used to me my excuse as well. Until I made time and I started reading before bedtime, in taxis, buses, while waiting for food to cook (that’s a dangerous one!) and instead of watching TV. If I don’t read I become depressed, moody and negative – a good book can always brighten up my day.

    1. Read.Learn.Write

      I’m turning into a lunchtime reader which I never thought I would be. I can usually squeeze in 15 minutes there if no time else.

      My mornings, starting this week, I committed to trying to write. So I’ve been getting up early and writing before work.

      The missing link for me right now, is exercise. I need to take my own advice there and just get out and do some every day.

  4. Chris

    Love this post, also, so happy to see someone use pernicious (and correctly besides) because it’s just such a fun word. I actually have to force myself to stop reading to do other things (exercising with books helps motivate me to move).

    1. Read.Learn.Write

      Thank you. It is fun, isn’t it? I need to get a treadmill desk or a stationary bike, I guess.

  5. Drew

    The best thing we ever did was get rid of our TV. Now we have time to read…bonus: we save our brains from rotting (due to the crap on TV these days).

    The next best thing was downloading kindle app to my phone and tablet. I can read anywhere, anytime now!

    1. Read.Learn.Write

      I love the poetry of that: Out with one technology and in with the other.

      I use the Kindle app daily as well. It’s even getting hard to imagine life before the Kindle and the Kindle app.

  6. Erasmus D.

    Graduate School requires me to read quite a bit. Luckily most of what I read I find extremely interesting. But I have always read. Anything with words, cereal boxes at breakfast, ketchup ingredients at dinner. As a bit of a purist, I have always railed against books on tape (which I suppose are no longer on tape) but a well read book can be quite an enjoyable experience. Now I take my hour lunch break and walk around campus listening to a book that is completely unrelated to what I am researching. I recommend starting with books read by their authors. It makes a better gateway drug for the others. I have an hour in the morning for writing and an hour at night for reading. Everything else can fit itself in around that. It has kept me sane through one thesis and on track for my Phd work. The fact I have over 4,000 books on my Nook’s SD card, it can get a bit overwhelming on what to pick.

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