Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reading in School Made Me Who I Am by Andy Gavin

Reading doesn’t separate the men from the boys, it separates the educated from the ignorant. Seriously. There is no other conduit for absorbing information and broadening oneself that is so accessible and so efficient. Every medium has its advantages, but the book has it all in regards to breadth and depth. There are books on more topics, and more specific topics, than any other format. Probably by several orders of magnitude. And nothing holds as much information in as few bits.

So I read a lot in school.
But this doesn’t mean what you might think. I read in school. Literally.
From fourth grade on I had a novel shoved in my desk, hidden in the pages of my textbook, or propped on the floor. I read on the bus to school. I read in the library before school. I read in class. I read standing in the hall between classes. I read in the playground. I read at lunch. I read all the way home.
While the class slogged through fractions, I flew to different planets. While the teacher lectured on Jamestown, I crossed under Moria with Gandalf and crew. Everyone else had science, I had Science Fiction.
But, again, seriously, this worked. While other students memorized vocabulary, I read it in context. Instead of hearing about history, I lived it through characters. Instead of diagramming sentences, I saw them used: sometimes poorly, often well. Lectures on civil rights? I got to be a girl, an old lady, a slave, black, white, Asian, alien!
And besides, it was exceedingly good practice at multitasking. Try answering a teacher’s question when you’ve been reading a pulp adventure novel for the last hour! Or practice reading at the same time you proof the spelling homework, pencil in hand.
But joking aside, reading broadens the mind. It doesn’t always even matter what you (or your children) read, except that you develop the habit. When you read ten books a week there’s always time to toss War and Peace onto the pile. Actually, the pile is always hundreds deep, but if you keep digging at it, you make progress. Even a few minutes a day — every day — will move you along. If you’re willing to read, you can learn anything (well, once I tried to master breaststroke from a book — not so successful).
The bar is surprisingly low. When, in the mid 90s, I wanted to learn about wine, I read three hefty tomes. Suddenly, I knew more than people who had been serious for years! When I was building my house, I read a bunch of books on 18th century furniture and found I knew far more than the interior designers we interviewed. We hired the one who could tell RĂ©gence from Rococo.
Fiction — even genre fiction — has even more impact. You only get to live once. Perhaps you can try out a few things. But via novels you can almost become someone else. Again and again! Want to know what happens when you spend your whole life blitzed out of your mind? Read a Jim Morison biography! Been there, done that, no need to overdose on heroin. Time travel? Totally possible in literature, both the Science Fiction sort and the more metaphoric variety offered by Historical Fiction.
So, yeah, I learned a lot reading in school!
About the Author
Andy Gavin is an unstoppable storyteller who studied for his Ph.D. at M.I.T. and founded video game developer Naughty Dog, Inc. at the age of fifteen, serving as co-president for two decades. There he created, produced, and directed over a dozen video games, including the award winning and best selling Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter franchises, selling over 40 million units worldwide. He sleeps little, reads novels and histories, watches media obsessively, travels, and of course, writes. His first novel, The Darkening Dream, is a thrilling dark fantasy that features vampires of the non-sparkly variety.

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  1. School was my start of reading. It was that summer project of 10 book reports to hand in. I continued as a reader through all my education- BS, MS in Nursing, BS in Pharmacy- then I started to read for pleasure.

  2. Great post Andy. It was the same for me. Nine-tenths of what I learned as a child, and still learn today comes from reading rather than instruction. As a kid I read everything I could get my hands on. At school, the other kids called me "encyclopedia" because I knew so much about such a variety of topics. How? It wasn't from instruction. My parents bought The World Book Encyclopedia and I was reading every single volume cover to cover! The same goes for expanding your world and your imagination. You can be anything, go anywhere, do the impossible without ever leaving your room. Which was often the case. I practically lived in my room, reading, reading, reading.

  3. My daughter (7 yo) reads the phone book and the dictionary. She takes the dictionary to bed with her and reads it. She's been doing this for over a year now. It's weird, but really cool. :)

  4. I dare say the dictionary is more useful than the phone book! :-) But any reading is a good thing. There is no way classes can cover the kind of fact density that a book can. I have a very visual memory too, so text is much easier to remember than spoken information. People with audio memories might disagree.

  5. I can absolutely relate to this. I always got in trouble for reading when I was supposed to be doing other things. :) Great post.

  6. Through reading and writing, I agree it is indeed possible to experience and learn anything: there are no limits :)