Why I Hate Push-Ups OR How to Create a ‘Non’ Reader

June 16, 2013

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“Gimme some push-ups. BOOM!” my charming friend, Vanessa, instructed me when she offered me a free ‘program’ at the gym one day.

I stared up at her like a puppy in the rain:

“That’s ok.”
“What do you mean: that’s ok?” She looked down at me and – for a brief moment – I imagined myself somewhere else. Anywhere else.

I hate push-ups.

See, this one time in gym class, many years ago, my teacher forced me to do push-ups as a punishment for running away to get a burger during class.

Granted – I should never have run away to get a burger during gym class – the irony is not lost on me.

If one of my students were to run away during class time – I would certainly lament their selfishness (and laziness – although I did run).

I would be mad. I would be disappointed.

But they would not have to read as a punishment. Or write.

Too often, reading and writing are used as retributions:

“Get in your room and read!”
“Stay after school and write me a 500-word essay about [INSERT SUBJECT OF YOUR CHOICE].”
“Be sure to bring a book to detention. That’s the only thing you’re allowed to do there.”

You get the picture.

Why, then, are we surprised to discover that so many people have a fractured relationship to reading?

Unfortunately, many fractured readers I’ve spoken with attribute their ‘non’ reading to:

Feeling stupid in high school, having a bad memory of failing tests or embarrassing themselves in presentations, feeling forced to finish books, finding the books boring and– the saddest – equating reading with torture.

I’m not saying that we should never ask students (or anyone, for that matter) to read something that challenges them. But let’s look at this from an adult perspective:

As adults – we don’t read things that we don’t like (unless we are Type A and simply MUST finish every book – think of how precious your time is and how many other books there are!!).

Most of us stop doing something we don’t like.

I believe – wholeheartedly – that if you create a reader, they will naturally turn to the classics.

I’ve seen it happen.

Once students and friends – those who wouldn’t categorize themselves as readers growing up – develop the passion for reading they are curious as to what the ‘fuss’ is about The Great Gatsby or Anna Karenina (yup!) or The Metamorphosis.

Deep down everyone wants to be a reader.

Reading is perhaps one of the most relaxing – and cheapest – ways to learn in existence.

But you have to love what you’re doing to relax.

I’m a firm believer in the classics; however, there’s a delicate balance between asking just anyone to start off reading a less relatable book and unintentionally turning someone off of reading for life:

The more you force a reader to engage with texts they cannot personally relate to, the more you increase the possibility that – in the future – this person will not form positive associations with reading.

It’s that simple.

If people are happy, they’ll continue to read. And if they continue to read, they’ll try books that challenge them.

So have some patience with your students, with your children, with yourself.

The more you create the desire to read, the higher the chances are that you will create a reader.

Any great teacher, parent, friend and/or mentor can make a book come alive if shared properly.

The more push-ups I was forced to do, the more gym classes I skipped, and the more reluctance I developed.

We don’t expect people to drop and give us fifty if they’ve never done a push-up, do we?

Btw – thanks, Vanessa, for the analogy. And for teaching me – patiently – how to do a proper push-up.


  1. I loved your blog post! It rings very true. As a teacher of younger students I think it is an important message to send to elementary educators to hear who are setting the foundation of reading. My question for you is how do you negotiate when to push a student to finish a book and when not to? I have so many students that would never finish a book if it wasn’t sometimes forced as they simply start a novel, don’t take the time needed to really “get into it” and then abandon it for something else. Then repeat. Thanks!

    • Hmm…good question, Sarah! I would suggest that if it’s a book you think the student really needs to read, then sitting down with him/her and devising a way to really get to the crux of what exactly he/she doesn’t like about it would be beneficial. Sometimes, this acts as an incentive to keep people reading. If they can express exactly what about the book isn’t working, and track this along the way, this is pretty valuable for lit. analysis. If it’s a book that the student is reading for pleasure and you don’t feel there is any merit in it at all, suggest that they put it down. Of course, this is all just one Book Dumpling’s opinion! Thanks for your question 🙂

  2. If non-readers understood that reading is not only a pleasurable but a subversive activity, they would gladly read. As Marjorie Garber writes in her Use and Abuse of Literature, “Reading is dangerous, which is why it is important.”

    As for hamburgers, I like Mel’s in San Francisco; however, it is a tad far for our truants to reach.

  3. Reading has been a major part of my life since I can remember.
    Andrea, you are so right, the challenge is to match the reader to a book that will open the wonderful world of travelling without leaving home, meeting extraordinary characters, agreeing or disagreeing with choices made and paths following, all of this created by the most wonderful people one will actually never meet.
    My imagination and I continue to seek new adventures through the world of books.
    I enjoy your reflections tremendously. Thank you for this website and keep challenging all of us to read, Cheryl

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