Are readers born or made?

09/09/2016 Personal, Reading 34

Are readers born or made?Back in college I studied Psychology as one of my A Levels, and one of the aspects I found most interesting was the idea of nature vs. nurture. I think it’s fascinating to think about whether the aspects of your personality are inset within you at birth, or whether you acquire them as a result of your upbringing and life experiences, and I’ve always personally felt it’s a combination of the two.

For example, I’m one of three children in my family (I have an older brother and a younger sister…and I like to think I don’t suffer from that whole ‘middle child syndrome’ thing!) and whilst we were all brought up the same, all three of us are completely different, which implies that we were all born with our own individual characteristics. But then again, we all had very different school experiences (my brother and sister were both quite popular, whereas I wasn’t, and was bullied throughout school) which may account for some of our different traits (eg. me being much more reserved and liking my own company more).

But anyway, I’m digressing! What I want to talk about in this post is whether or not being an avid reader is a result of nature or nurture. In other words, are readers born or made? Are people who grow up to love reading naturally inclined to like reading, or is it to do with their upbringing and life experiences?

If I look back at my own history as a reader, it seems like I’ve always been inclined to read, even before I could actually physically read. My mum always likes to tell the story of how as a baby I would hold my little books close to my face (we now realise that’s because I was long sighted and needed glasses!) and chatter away as if I was actually reading. I wanted to read even before I actually could, and when I finally read my first full book at three years old (The Gingerbread Man) I never looked back!

And whilst my parents did always encourage my reading, neither of them are readers themselves, and neither my brother or sister have grown up to be readers. To me that suggests that it wasn’t a learnt habit – I didn’t see my mum reading as a child and copy her – and it didn’t develop specifically because of my upbringing, because, as I say, my brother and sister were brought up exactly the same and neither of them are readers.

Which can only mean that I was born with some kind of character trait that makes me inclined towards being a bookworm – I’m a ‘natural born reader’, if you will – and maybe I was always destined to be a reader, or perhaps something in my upbringing activated that pre-existing inclination…I really don’t know! I was interested and so had a bit of a read around about the subject on the internet and came across some really interesting articles, most of which seemed to come to the same conclusion as me, that a love of reading is a natural trait that you’re born with (you can read the best one I found here, if you’re interested).

But then how does that explain people who get into reading later on in life? Possibly they have the natural inclination but it isn’t triggered until later? I really don’t know, but I think it’s an interesting thing to think about, because personally I really can’t imagine my life without reading. Even when I have been through slumps (one of which lasted a whole year), I have always known that I’ll come back to it, because that’s what I do: I’m a reader.

So I’d love some more opinions! Do you think readers are born or made? What does your own reading journey suggest? 

34 Responses to “Are readers born or made?”

  1. Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight

    I used to believe pretty much entirely in nurture. But in the past several years or so, I guess, I’ve come to believe there are definitely parts of you that are just intrinsic. So I agree that people are a combination of both.

    As for reading… I had basically the same situation as you. I don’t think in my entire life I’ve ever seen either of my parents read a book. My dad likes to read more nonfiction type of stuff, like articles, but never novels. And I don’t know that they really guided me into reading, but they at least supported it, bought me books as gifts, took me to the used book store, etc.

    I think it makes sense that it was a natural trait for me because I’ve always been a writer, even before I was an avid reader. And I’ve always been imaginative and loved stories. Plus I can very easily get lost in my thoughts lol, which translates well into getting lost in a book.

    But I think reading is probably just as much a combination of nature and nurture as anything else. If we hadn’t found books we actually connected with, or had we been raised differently, we might not be avid readers. I mean, I know that in middle school, that was when I *really* got into reading (not that I ever disliked it, but you know what I mean), and I ended up with a lot of friends who also loved reading, so we were always talking about books and loaning books to each other. Maybe it would’ve turned out differently if I hadn’t had those friends, you know? I mean, I was pretty much the only reader I knew in high school, but by then I was hooked so it didn’t matter lol. I think I’m rambling now. My point is, I think it’s just both, or it could be either one of the two for some people 🙂

    • Laura

      It does sound like you were in the same situation as me growing up. My parents don’t read, but they always really liked that I did and would buy me books for my birthday and Christmas, take me to the library on the way home from school etc.
      I think for me the reading came first, but I’ve still been a writer since I was very young. I’m exactly the same though in that I have always loved stories and have had quite a wild imagination! I’ve always been a bit of a daydreamer, and that combined with my love of reading and stories meant I started dreaming up and writing down my own stories.
      I definitely think it is a combination of nature and nurture though, and I totally agree that it may have been different had we not found specific books we connected with, as well as our upbringings. I know the point where I moved from ‘enjoys reading’ to ‘avid reader’ was when my mum and dad bought me the first two Harry Potter books for what I think was my 8th birthday. I absolutely loved them and from then on I was a total bookworm, so I guess that was a combination of connecting with the right book, and my upbringing! 🙂

  2. Tiziana

    Interesting question! I also think it’s a combination of both nature and nurture. My parents aren’t readers, although my father is definitely inclined towards learning and general knowledge, but he relies on the Web and documentaries. I don’t remember exactly how I started loving books. Mum used to buy me fairytale books and at some point, both parents and my uncles started buying me more books, from fiction to non-fiction. I could read a whole Famous Five book (my fave series as a child) in one sitting and I could spend hours reading every article in my children’s encyclopaedia. Being an only child and a reserved girl who did not hang out with friends outside school has probably pushed me towards reading.

    Nowadays I often question whether I’m a true reader or not, as I also suffer from slumps. But once a friend of mine told me that, judging by the pain and shame I feel whenever I feel that I’m not reading enough, proves that I’m worthy of being called a true reader. 😀

    • Laura

      I remember reading the Famous Five books! I absolutely adored those (and pretty much anything by Enid Blyton!) 🙂
      It definitely sounds like it was a combination for you too. I think being quite reserved as a person can definitely make someone more inclined to a quieter, more imaginative hobby like reading (it has been from my own experience anyway, because I’m very reserved as well!), and it seems like your parents and family really encouraged you with your reading.
      And I think every reader goes through cycles where they read more or less than usual. If you like books, then you’re definitely a true reader as far as I’m concerned! 🙂

  3. Aj @ Read All The Things!

    Interesting! I’ve never thought about this. I hated reading when I was a kid and struggled to learn how to do it. Nobody in my family reads, so I didn’t grow up around bookworms. Even before I could read, I liked stories, so maybe some people are born with a love of stories, and the love of reading comes later? I have no idea.

    • Laura

      That’s a really interesting idea! I do think some people do just like stories more than other people, whether that’s just telling other people funny anecdotes from their life, or writing stories, or listening to other people, or reading books, so that’s definitely a possibility 🙂

  4. Puput @ Sparkling Letters

    Oh hey! I’m a psychology graduate so I love your question! 😛 then again, I could never answer it because it’s always both nature & nurture lol but personally, my parents are never readers yet my first memory of reading was when my mom read those children stories to me when I was little. I guess I was so fascinated by those stories and I wanted to read them to myself. I’ve loved reading ever since and I can’t imagine my life without reading. It’s just an inseparable part of me 😛 my brother, on the other hand, isn’t really into reading. Though I noticed that when he was little, my mom didn’t read him story as often as she did to me, with all her busyness and everything. But there were some times my brother borrows my books but it’s not an everyday thing. Great discussion! 😀

    • Laura

      That’s cool! It’s great to get some insight on the subject from someone studying psychology! 🙂
      I have a lot of early memories of being read to as well, and maybe after I showed some interest in it my parents put more emphasis on it with me than with my siblings? It definitely sounds like the start of your reading life was very similar to mine in that respect, and has been a combination of nature and nurture.
      I’m so glad you enjoyed the discussion! 🙂

  5. Melissa @ Quill Pen Writer

    This is a really interesting discussion. I would say it might be a combination of both. Some people may naturally be more inclined to read than others, but if they’re not brought up in an environment that encourages reading and stories, maybe those are the people that discover it later in life? Great food for thought; thanks for this post! 😀

    • Laura

      I think your theory is probably right! Some people are probably more inclined towards reading, it just has to be triggered somehow.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂

  6. Simone

    I love this blog post. I’ve never really thought about this but it’s really interesting and I think you’re right. I have younger brother, there’s 10 years difference between us. When I was younger, I went to library almost every single week and I read a lot. Then I stopped for a while and then Harry Potter got me reading again. My brother is totally different. I tried reading books to him, I tried different genres and popular YA books but nothing interests him. He just doesn’t like books. Though I think I might got it from my mum and from my grandma because they looove to read, maybe I saw them as a child and my trait woke up. I don’t remember whether they read to me when I was little or not. On the other hand, my brother doesn’t have to have this trait, because he saw me reading a lot and nothing. He has other interests. 🙂

    • Laura

      That’s so interesting, the difference between you and your brother! I guess if you’ve actively encouraged him to read, but he still isn’t interested in it then it must be a trait that you either have or don’t to some degree, and it does just have to be woken up. I think it’s probably the same with me and my two siblings, but I really don’t know where I got the reading trait from because neither of my parents read! Although I think my mum used to when she was my age, so I probably got it from her 🙂

  7. Greg

    Nice post! As a psych major I was always fascinated by nature vs nurture too. I tend to agree w/ you that readers are “born” that way, as I was the same way. We had some books in the house and my mom read a bit, but I was a total bookworm as a kid. Read everywhere. Why? I don’t know, but it is fascinating to think about. and my sister by the way hates reading!

    I do think it is a combination of both. Some people just don’t care to read, they have innate talents or interests elsewhere and I think we all have those. And I also went though a period where I didn’t read much for awhile, but I never questioned that I was a reader, it was just a temporary occurrence.

    One thing that really annoys me is the way quieter kids ( whether readers are not) are often bullied, as if heaven forbid not everyone is an extrovert or popular. It seems to be a universal thing but I’ve often wondered in the States why it seems to be that being smart or liking to read or learn is not “cool” and grounds for bullying, as it always is. I guess I’m getting off ona tangent, but anyway… great discussion!

    • Laura

      It sounds like the start of your reading journey was pretty similar to mine! And I read everywhere as a kid too: in the house, at school, in the car (which totally makes me sick now…plus I’m usually driving, so it’s probably not a good idea! 🙂 )… I even used to go and visit my relatives and then sit there reading, which I guess was kind of rude in hindsight! 🙂
      I totally agree with you! I imagine we all have inbuilt traits that make us more inclined towards certain interests (a good example I guess would be people who are very visual people, and creative are more likely to be interested in art?), and for us ours is reading. Even throughout my slumps, being a reader has always just been part of my identity too, and I’ve kind of known in the back of my mind that my lack of reading was just temporary.
      And I totally get what you mean with that! I think the world in general just looks down on quieter people and doesn’t see their value as much as it does extroverts (and I read Quiet by Susan Cain, which was all about that, and it was so interesting!), and it is really annoying. Especially when it results in bullying and things like that. Personally, I was bullied at school partially because of my appearance, and partially because I was quiet and bookish and so was assumed to be a ‘swot’, which is yet another example of someone being looked down on for being quieter 🙁
      I’m glad you liked the discussion! 🙂

  8. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    This is so incredibly interesting! I do think that, like most things, it’s probably a mixture of nature and nurture that leads us to a love of books. My mom was a booklover and so it was perfectly natural for me to read lots of books right along with her, BUT I think that there had to be some sort of natural inclination to want to do that. My brother barely reads at all. My dad reads mostly non-fiction and magazines and such. Nature vs. nurture seems to always be the million dollar question, right?

    • Laura

      Nature vs. nurture really is such an interesting question! 🙂
      Pretty much everyone who has commented seems to have said it was the same for them and was a combination, so it doesn’t seem like there’s one answer really. Your story definitely seems similar to mine!
      It is really fascinating to think about 🙂

  9. Kirstie @ Upside-Down Books

    This is such an interesting topic to think about! I have no idea what the answer is but I always find my reading journey confusing. I genuinely hated reading when I was a kid. No matter what my parents tried I just did not want to read and could not see the fun in it. It wasn’t until I was 13 that I picked up a series of books and really got into it. I think at some point later in my primary school years something must have triggered my want to read – I remember going through the library and looking at books like Goosebumps and have a read of them; I even planned writing a little book. It’s so strange how you can have a complete turn around!

    • Laura

      Your story is so interesting! It seems like with you a lot of it was about finding the right books to spark your interest and trigger your love of reading.
      It really is so strange how things can turnaround! 🙂

  10. tonyalee

    This is a great topic!!

    I think it’s a mixture of both. I was a big reader as a kid and took about a 7 year stint where I didn’t read at all, then got back into reading. My mom read a lot, but never really pushed me to read ya know? I just did. However, my two kids are very different, in the fact that one hates to read (CRIES) and the other one likes to read a lot (but he can’t find anything he really LOVES right now)

    Very thought provoking question!

    • Laura

      From my own experiences and most people’s comments here it really does look like it’s a mixture usually.
      That’s so interesting with the difference between your two children! I know it was like that with me and my brother – I love reading and he really can’t think of anything worse! 🙂

  11. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    I don’t know whether or not readers are born or made. I know I was always encouraged to read growing up. My mom is an avid reader and my nan always encouraged me and my brother to read things, gifting us with books. I think my love for reading was partially taught. I have embraced reading far more than brother has (I have always done things to the extreme when I am interested in something, though. I have an all or nothing personality) as my brother reads but it’s a couple of books a month rather than a week. I don’t think reading can fully be a natural trait because I think everyone can be a reader it’s just a case of people finding the right kind of books for them. Not everyone is going to be such an avid reader, and maybe readers who read a lot may have that natural trait which makes them like reading more than other things. I don’t know. It’s an interesting concept thinking if it’s a nature or nurture thing, though.

    • Laura

      It is a pretty interesting thing to think about, and I really like your thoughts on the subject!
      I definitely agree that it can’t be purely based on a natural trait and that most people could probably become at least casual readers if they found the right books. Maybe it is a case of readers having that kind of all or nothing personality to some extent? They find books they love and end up not just liking reading, but loving it because that’s they’re personality? There definitely seems to be so many factors involved! 🙂

  12. Aralyn @ Paper Addictions & Magic

    I love this question 🙂
    I must say, I think my own reading habits were intrinsic. Natural! My mother used to read more frequently than now, but it still wasn’t that often. She prefers audiobooks now. My dad didn’t ever read, that I can recall. I was just drawn to all those great spelling, pretty books in my schools’ libraries and such.

    I think it can be a combination of nurture and nature for a lot of people. Some might be fully nurture!
    But then I also wonder if maybe there are a lot of people that intrinsically want to read, but circumstances and time don’t allow it, so we’ll never know.
    Also, some may be late bloomers due to not actively finding what they like, y’know? They don’t think about if they’ll like reading until they discover the perfect genre!

    Lovely post!

    • Laura

      I personally think I’m a mixture of nature and nurture with my reading, but I definitely think there will be lots of people out there who are all one or the other, and I think it’s awesome that your reading is just a natural part of you.
      And I think you’re probably right about the late bloomers thing. I bet way more people could become readers if they just found the perfect books for them! 🙂

  13. Cilla

    This is so interesting! I’m sure it’s both, but I think nurture plays a huge part in my journey as a reader. My parents are huge readers, and they used to read to me all the time. We still borrow each other’s books sometimes. My sister isn’t as avid a reader, though she enjoys novels too. She’s a much more visual kind of person, so maybe that part is nature. 😀 Great topic!

    • Laura

      I always kind of wished the rest of my family loved books as much as I did, and then we could all borrow each others books! That must be really good! I think some people are just different kinds of people, and so reading doesn’t suit them as much. Like you say your sister is more visual, and my brother is more mathematically minded, so it isn’t really his thing. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  14. Jordon @ Simply Adrift

    When I try and think back and compare me and my friends, I can’t quite tell.

    As a kid I, for some reason, found it really hard learning to read, I therefore used to hate reading! I had real issues with reading, words and spelling. So I had to get extra lessons outside of school until I could read & write at my right age level. This ended up meaning I started to read a lot, and in the end once I was able to do it right I fell in love with reading stories.

    However, my friends that didn’t have any difficulty learning to read, aren’t big readers now. They think reading is boring and even when I try and suggest a book them, they have no interest.

    So maybe because I was forced to read more, I learned to love it and I was exposed more to different stories?

    In saying that, I do remember I loved to make up my own stories! My friends, not so much.

    • Laura

      Your journey into reading is so interesting, and I really like your theory that because you were forced to read more you learnt to love it! From your story it would definitely seem like there isn’t necessarily a link between the ease with which you learn to read, and whether or not you end up as an avid reader. I guess it’s all about whether or not you naturally love stories! 🙂

  15. Eva @ All Books Considered

    Such an amazing topic! Funnily enough, my mom has always been a HUGE reader. When we were growing up, my brother was also a HUGE reader (all the time!) I read less but still loved reading. However, in the past few years, I have become a really big reader. I don’t know if it was because I grew up with it or what but it’s nice to be in a family of readers. &heart; this post!

  16. Wendy @ Falconer's Library

    I also started reading around three, but unlike you, I had three older sisters who were all pretty avid readers, so it was yet another thing I wanted to do to be more like them. My parents read and had shelves of books around, but I think all four of us read more frequently than they did.

    What I always wonder is am I the intense reader I am because I grew up without a television (and before computers)? It was quite literally the easiest thing for me to do as a kid whenever I had down time. I read a lot, so I got better at it, so I read more… I watch my own children, who I think would almost ALWAYS be on screens if I didn’t set limits. Reading is –not a chore, exactly, but not their favorite either. Then again, there are plenty of rabid readers who also watch a lot of TV or who grew up in a screen-heavy environment.

    Interesting question, for sure!

    • Laura

      That must be so nice having a family who also like reading and you can talk about books with! 🙂
      It’s an interesting question! I would probably read even more than I do now if it wasn’t for TV and the internet distracting me, so growing up completely without those things would probably make someone more likely to turn to reading.

  17. Jafar

    I got back into reading after ten years! I remember thinking why am I not creative enough? Why do I have no imagination? I researched and read about the importance and benefits of reading. I started reading and the more I read the more my hunger for more books grew. Now I don’t watch television at all.

    I don’t know what happened – why I haven’t read in a long time. I remember that I enjoyed reading as a child. But maybe after secondary school I became fed up of reading.

    • Laura

      I’m so glad you got back into it after so long! That’s awesome 🙂
      I think everyone goes through phases where they fall out of love with reading. I had a year like that in college where I pretty much didn’t read at all. Maybe yours was just a really long reading slump!

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