But what I'm trying to say is that they're two different things. I mean, I love reading. I have a lot of fun doing it. When I find a book that I love, I'm just like any other reader in the world--I want to read that book, and I want to read every other book that that writer ever wrote.
But on the other hand, writing is a different kind of thing. It's a different exercise, even. Certainly you can learn things about writing from reading. There's no question about that. But you can also learn things from storytellers and you can learn from observing.
The great poets, for instance--troubadours, or even Homer--they were illiterate. Homer, arguably our greatest novelist, with "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey"--obviously he was a very intelligent, very educated man, who transferred this incredible story from place to place just by talking, and by remembering. What--am I going to say Shakespeare was a greater writer than Homer because Shakespeare was literate and Homer wasn't? I don't think so.
So it's much more than a gap--they're two different exercises, it seems to me. The other thing, though, is that I think people should write. I think people should try to tell stories. I think that's wonderful. And anybody has the chance of doing it. You might be a C student in English and only like reading war novels, but it turns out that you're an incredible writer. So one shouldn't start to think that they can't do it.
Q: I think it takes a realization that you can do it. People just don't think of themselves as writers, even if they are readers.
A: Reading is anywhere. It could be on the Internet, it could be newspapers, it could be on bubble-gum wrappers. It doesn't have to be in the book. But the point is that a lot of people begin to identify writing as the book itself. And the book becomes like a holy thing, like the Bible or something.
Look at television. Every show on television is written. So the act of writing is becoming a larger and larger thing in the culture. So even if reading isn't growing, or growing very slowly, there's another whole issue going on--that writing is actually flourishing. Not necessarily good writing, by the by. But it's flourishing anyway.
Q: Can you tell me, in your own words, why is it important for kids to read? What is it about reading that's so valuable?
A: I have a political answer for that. I love reading. But I don't think that it's something necessarily greater than basketball. I love reading, but if somebody says, "I love playing basketball," I'm not going to say, "Well, the thing I love is better than the thing you love."
But I will say this: The chances of you being able to negotiate this life, in this world, by playing basketball, are pretty slim. I think that you learn some things from it, and you learn some very good things from it.
But on the whole, what you need to learn about life is how to think, how to solve problems, how to make your mind fit around complex issues, or to simplify complex issues. The only things I know that do that are--there's three of them: There's relationships with people. There's being taught on a one-to-one basis how to do something, like mechanics or shipbuilding or experiments in science.
The final thing is reading. It makes you a fuller person, and it makes you much more capable of dealing with life. As a matter of fact, if you can't read, the chances are you probably won't make it in this life, in this world, in the 21st century.
Q: That's a pretty practical answer.
A: I like to give people practical answers. Because I don't think that a person who reads is better than a person who doesn't. You have some great people who know how to think and how to act and how to be good people. I don't think reading makes you a good person.
And I believe that this country, and this government, is against educating the children. And so learning how to read is actually a revolutionary act. You go to these public schools, especially poor public schools, and they don't care. Nobody's going into conniptions that you don't read.
Q: You think there are people who are consciously against it?
A: No, I don't think it's conscious. It's just that they don't care. They don't care if you know how to read or write. I don't think that it's a conscious conspiracy.
But the thing is, you go to somebody--if they have a certain amount of money, a certain amount of energy and a certain amount of time--and then say, "Well, look. Only 80% of the kids know how to read words; 50% of them can give the basic ideas of a story; and about 10% of them really have a deep understanding of language and its use. We think that we could get it up to [where] 50% could have that deep understanding."
And the guy says, "Well, how much does it cost?"
You say, "Well, $50 million."
He says, "Well, that's not worth it. That's untenable. We don't have $50 million to put there."
We do have it for the S&L bailout, we do have it for a war in Iraq or an embargo against Cuba, but we don't have it to teach our children how to read.
So it's not a conscious conspiracy, but when you ask somebody, "Well, how come you're not doing it?" they say, "Well, we can't afford it." I mean, I'm living in the richest country in the history of the world. We can afford almost anything.
I think that it's important to know--for parents and for their children--that it's a revolutionary act to read. Knowing and understanding will make things different.