Happy birthday/Congratulations! Here’s a Book!

Some tips on how to convert non-readers by Teah Abdullah

My Queen, JK Rowling, once said “If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.”

As if Queen Jo couldn’t be more flawless in my eyes, she comes out with statements like these to justify her perfection. We’re all readers. We read the newspaper, we read letters, we read bills (I’m kidding, no one does that) and we read Facebook status. We’re all readers, but the inclination to pick up a book differs from one person to another, which is why my solution to getting people to read is to buy them books for their birthday instead of Charles and Keith vouchers that renders useless in the future because they’re just shoes for God’s sake! Not a metaphysical solution to every existential questions in the world!

As readers, we tend to put ourselves on a higher pedestal compared to those who don’t (shut up, we totally do,) therefore giving books as a gift is a really tricky business. We need to be open and acknowledge the fact that the book we’re giving are for people who are not readers, therefore their level of concentration as they open a book is not the same as ours. Non-readers will not immediately go through a book in one sitting, nor will they enjoy that book you love so much because not everyone understands the appeal to reading.

My younger brother is my trial and tribulation. It started with him asking me if I have any books to recommend to him, so I gave him 1984 and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy because he likes science and may therefore enjoy sci-fi or dystopia.

Bad news! He didn’t enjoy either because 1) My brother isn’t me, and therefore has no interest in questions of freedom and top-down politics, and 2) His idea of humour is heavily based on Internet memes and 9gag, not like, a long monologue about a whale discovering existence as it meet its death but more like, “Hey, Ka Teah, check out my Yao Ming face that I’ll give you every time we make a pun!”

That was the first step: Let go of your bias. I’m willing to accept that not every book I obsess over can be enjoyed by other people, kind of like how I think Looking for Alaska is really overhyped out of all the John Green books (Katherines FOR THE WIN!) I’m not going to argue with non-readers and ridiculing them for not enjoying the books I love (unless it’s Harry Potter because stop being ridiculous, who do you think you are?!)

Digging the surface further is essential in finding that perfect book. Sometimes you’ll get lucky if you give someone a comic, and they’ll continue to read comics. I understand that some readers refuse to acknowledge reading comics as reading, but a lot of comics have deep philosophical content than novels. Remember, let go of your bias, and don’t enforce your own belief system into other people’s. If people are willing to read something even comics, we should be ready to accept that. It’s definitely better than sitting down all day staring onto a dirty spot on the ceiling or practising your troll face!

Which brings me to the second step: Know their interest. Know where their interest lies because what you like is not an osmosis process that’ll transfer to another person, that’s why we have people we like and people we don’t.

They might like non-fiction while you’re crazy about fantasy. Some people don’t like Nicholas Sparks like you do, because some people are realistic and doesn’t see cancer the same way Sparks does. Other people like cars, kind of like that man I saw at the post office, who was obviously not a reader (what did I say about how high a readers’ pedestal is?) Non-Reader Guy At The Post Office received a package of a book touching on a car brand he’s obviously obsessed over–I know this because he was wearing a shirt with the car’s print–and he threaded a smile on his face, one which communicates, “I LOVE BOOKS! How is it possible for books to have stuff relating to my favourite car brand? I CANNOT!”

Lastly, this brings back to the point about comics: visuals are helpful.

Not everyone will be able to process text quickly. Seeing a whole page filled with nothing but words can be extremely daunting for non-readers. Visuals and caricatures sharing the page with words can be seen as a welcoming instrument for non-readers. Pictures are not patronising. Visuals filling the white paper with colours attract people to read or to at least hover over the page for a while longer to discover what is actually on it.

For the case of my brother, I found the perfect book for him when I merged these three things together after failing with Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I dug into his enjoyment and discovered his affinity for physics and space, which led me to getting him a book about the subject. Although he found the book interesting, he also didn’t managed to finish it (which is fine, as referred here.) Eventually, as his birthday loomed, I found a book that touches on these subjects, has a fun title that brings the point across with a bang and consisted so many stunning drawings.

My brother loved the book. And in my next trip overseas, I got him something similar but with a wider range of topics from history to language to experimental, but all with a common theme: Beautiful images and intelligible writing that can not only teach him, but also encourage him to be a reader.

To conclude: Not everyone’s going to pick up a Franzen book and immediately manage to finish it quickly, kinda like how I can’t force my two year old niece to finish up the Quran in one sitting. The road to enjoying reading is a progression, not an apparition because 1) Learning is a step-by-step process, 2) concentration level needs to be gained like gold coins in Mario Bros, and 3) you need a wand to apparate, duh.

EXTRA: Here’s a picture of a black sheep that I think is cute.

Look at its fluffy butt!

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