Who Are These People Who Refuse to Read?

Inspired by their tech heroes, never-readers think books are a waste of time

A pile of abandoned books. Today we take a look at the growing movement of people who don't read.
Young techies are following the blueprints of questionable heroes.
Grace Cary/Getty Images

There are some people out there who proudly burn books, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are also people who proudly refuse to read them.

In recent years, there’s emerged an alarming groundswell of proud “non-readers,” people who categorically refuse to read, or are vowing to cut back, or like to point out why others are wasting their time reading.

In a recent feature for The Atlantic on the subject, cultural critic Thomas Chatterton Williams invoked a trio of book deniers from last year…all of whom had a titanic fall from grace: Kanye West, Sam Bankman-Fried and Sean McElwee. Each of one them said something incomprehensibly dumb about books last year:

  • West: “I am not a fan of books. I am a proud non-reader of books…I get my quotes from movies because I don’t read.”
  • Bankman-Fried: “I’m very skeptical of books. I don’t want to say no book is ever worth reading, but I actually do believe something pretty close to that. I think, if you wrote a book, you fucked up, and it should have been a six-paragraph blog post.”
  • McElwee: “Books are dumb — they only tell you what people want you to know.”

It’s tempting to dismiss these sound bites as the ravings of discredited men, but they were proclaimed at stages where millions of people — between board meetings, conferences, university appearances, you name it — still sponged up everything they had to say.

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Unfortunately, a cross-section of today’s adults (too often male and extremely online) still believe “billionaire makes brilliant,” and make a point to adopt whatever lifehacks, quick fixes or unpopular truths the ultra-wealthy have ever espoused, even despite said individual’s descent into ignominy.

You can find these never-readers pretty easily on Twitter and YouTube, where they post videos with titles like “WHY I DON’T READ BOOKS ANYMORE.” (Not hyperlinking for obvious reasons.) The message isn’t necessarily anti-literary, it’s more of a willfully ignorant pact to trust one’s own self-foraged knowledge. In their eyes, these guys are all about productivity. Reading is not productive.

They’d rather rely on a cocktail of natural intuition, podcast morsels and work experiences to enrich their lives (read: their careers) than sit down and read a book, which they claim A) would take far too much time, and B) would force them to confront hundreds of pages of things they don’t know.

No, this sort of person isn’t setting books aflame, but they’re the latest in a long tradition of depressing censorship. If you don’t want to read books, or can’t, or feel like you can’t afford them, then that’s unfortunate, but that’s your business. (According to the latest data from the Pew Research Center, about a quarter of Americans haven’t read a book in the last 12 months.) Please, please, don’t spend the time you’re supposedly saving to convince other people to stop reading books, too.

In response to one of those “no more reading” videos, one commenter wrote, “I’ve actually been reading less and executing more. I feel that many people procrastinate on actually doing what needs to be done by hoarding as much information as they can.” And another said, “Thanks for the great insight saving me millions of dollars worth of time!”

It’s amazing that it needs to be said, but reading is worth our time. If you must look at it through a tech engineer’s analytical lens, the science is sound; reading improves focus, imagination, memory, sleep…everything. There’s always value in reading — even just a few pages of something a day. And while it’s unclear how much this matters to the get-rich-quick grinders out there, reading makes us kinder, too. You can’t put a price on that.

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