I'm reading The Solitary Vice: Against Reading, a truly delightful book of essays by Mikita Brottman. It's not really against reading, only against certain kinds of reading: the kind of reading that's good for you, that you do because you feel you ought to. Reading, says Brottman, is best thought of as a vice: a source of pleasure and "a tool for self-exploration."
Yes! Exactly! Reading is not like taking vitamins or working out -- it really isn't. It makes you pale and self-involved. Heavy readers have terrible social skills. We're constantly disappointed in people. We have obnoxious vocabularies and use words we can't even pronounce. There's no evidence that readers are happier than non-readers. It wrecks your eyesight. The only good reason to read is because you really like to do it, not because it will make you an Improved Person. It won't.
And you know what, there's nothing wrong with being a non-reader, either, as Brottman points out. Obviously, being actually illiterate is a terrible burden, but there are plenty of people who have no interest in books or literature who live fulfilling and even outstanding lives. I remember a friend of my parents who claimed to have not read a single book since college. But he was an amazing math professor and could sit down at the piano and play anything. You know, if the devil came to me and said, I'll let you be brilliant at math and the piano if you never read again... I would have to think long and hard about it. (I would probably choose reading, ultimately, but I'd feel a pang every time I looked at my piano.)
Also, Brottman devotes chapters to "trash" reading -- celebrity confessions, true crime, and psychological case studies (I LOVE psychological case studies!!): the kinds of stuff I'm often embarrassed to admit I read as much as I read literary fiction -- and says why it's just as valuable, in its way. Like good fiction, these genres explore why humans do the things they do and why they feel what they feel.
It's so marvellously refreshing to read about reading in a way uncluttered by self-help bullshit or nostalgic self-mythologizing.