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Non-Reader Spotlight: Sean Olumstad photo


For this non-reader spotlight, I talked to Sean Olumstad. Sean and I met as undergrad theatre majors at Illinois Wesleyan. We both left theater behind not long after college. I made the lateral move to writing fiction and poetry, and Sean made the wise move of pursuing a career in nursing. He kindly took time out of his busy school schedule to answer my questions about reading.

Jac Jemc: Hi Sean! I crowd-sourced on Facebook and you said you qualified as a non-reader.  Can you tell me more about this impression of yourself generally? How do you draw the line between being a reader and being a non-reader?

Sean Olumstad: I suppose I consider myself a non-reader because reading is not one of my favorite forms of entertainment. When I am looking to relax, I would much prefer to watch television or movies. When I think of someone as a reader I imagine them reading as one of their primary forms of entertainment: someone who has read a vast number of books, over a large number of topics and genres. What I do read is mostly fiction and either involves fighting or humorous situations.

JJ: Is there anything you do like to read?

SO: I like to read fiction. Most recently, I read the A Song of Ice and Fire books. Those were really good. I started reading those after I finished watching the first season of A Game of Thrones on HBO. I couldn’t wait to see what happens next so I had to read the books.

JJ: You’re not the first “non-reader” who has listed those as a favorite recent book! I guess the lesson for writers here is: if you want someone to read your book, have it made into a TV show.  Were you a bigger reader when you were a kid? If so, what changed? If not, any ideas of why it was never your thing?

SO: When I was a kid I did read quite a bit. I remember reading the Boxcar children, Goosebumps and my favorite series Redwall. I was also very in to the comic strip collection books such as Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, and Garfield. When I was in seventh grade I read the Hobbit and was so angry at the terrible ending that I didn’t read for a while after that. I eventually came around to reading again but was more focused on stand up comedians’ books instead of fiction.  

JJ: Oh, I loved all those cartoons, too. I remember feeling super smart reading the Far Side. And I’m pretty sure if I had to choose a modern fictional character that is closest to my personality, it would be Garfield. What comedians’ books?! That’s exciting. I think the only ones I’ve read are Steve Martin’s and...maybe that’s it?

SO: Steven Martin was one of them. I had a very limited scope of who comedians were at the time. If they didn’t also have a sitcom or movies I wouldn’t have heard of them. So I read Steve Martin’s Pure Drivel, Drew Carey’s Dirty Jokes and Beer, and George Carlin’s Brain Droppings. The Carlin one was definitely the best.
JJ: Have any good memories or bad memories having to do with reading?

SO: I’ll always be fond of the Redwall series. I remember they were the first books I read more than once. It was also one of the first books I read where characters could die. I remember being devastated by their loss but still loving the book. As for any bad memories, I guess just reading the Hobbit. I don’t want to read anything by Tolkien ever again.     

JJ: Full disclosure: I have not read any Tolkien. What happens at the end of the Hobbit that makes it terrible (Spoiler Alert)? Is it just boring or does something happen that you disagree with? I’m interested in what could cause such an intense reaction!

SO: So the Hobbit is this long quest of how this band of adventurers are going to steal this dragon’s treasure, and when they get there and the dragon wakes up and starts rampaging around the countryside. Now the heroes of the story aren’t the ones that kill the dragon. The person who kills the dragon is an unnamed archer with a magic arrow that was only introduced four pages before he kills the dragon. It felt like it invalidated all the heroics we had seen the adventurers go on. It was as if they accomplished nothing because someone else did it for them.

JJ: Ah, yes. I generally hate it when things are tied up too easily, but especially when it’s a solution that has little to do with what you’ve been reading up untilt hat point. Do you ever buy books thinking, “This sounds super good!” Do you read it? Read part of it? What happens that makes you stop?

SO: I do. I still buy books but I rarely read them. When Borders Books was closing down, they had that massive sale. I bought about 12 books that are on all those top 100 books to read lists. All of the them are sitting on my shelf. I tried reading two but thought they were uninteresting so I put them back on the shelf. I’ll be watching a show or listening to a podcast and some person will be promoting their new book. If I enjoyed the interview, I will sometimes buy the book but usually just never get around to reading it.

JJ: Eh. I’m missing most of those Books You Should Read Before You Die books. Life’s too short. What podcasts do you like? I used to listen to a bunch, but the only one I’ve stuck with is WTF which makes me feel like I’m not very curious when it comes to podcasts.

SO: I really like all the interview podcasts. They are just so fascinating. You end up feeling like you really know that person or at least have a much more informed position of where they are coming from. I also like the WTF podcast, but it gets a little heavy for me sometimes. Nerdist is one of my favorites. They cover a wide variety of people and fun things. You Made it Weird can be really great, if you can handle Pete Holmes as host. He’s not for everyone and the show is usually too long at about 2 hours. I’d recommend The Indoor Kids if you like adults talking about videogames. Doug Loves Movies is a really fun show about comedians just hanging out talking and playing movie games. Almost anything with a comedian host really.

JJ: Do people ever give you books as gifts and you think, “What the?!”

SO: No, if I receive a book for a gift it is because I asked for it. Even the few times I have been surprised by a book I was interested because of the reason they gave it to me. When someone gives me a book, I try to read it.

JJ: That’s nice! I usually try to read the books I get as gifts, too, especially if a person gave me the book so we could talk about it. What are some of your favorite books that you most enjoyed reading?  You can go the traditional route and tell me what your favorite book is, but I think sometimes people pick an answer that sounds good there, like Moby Dick, when really it’s a good true crime book that really holds the key enjoyment-wise.

SO: I mostly enjoy series.I love to follow the same character or world over time.  A Song of Ice and Fire has become my favorite right now. The Redwall series I enjoyed as a kid will always be in my mind. I still buy the latest books in the Redwall series but I haven’t read the last few. The Author Brian Jacques recently died so I think there’s just one more to come out. He would write a new one almost yearly. They were all pretty much the same but I loved them. I like the Robert E. Howard books Conan and Kull. I think if something has a battle in it, I’m all set. More classic books like All Quiet on the Western Front, Lord of the Flies, Frankenstein and Dracula I’ve enjoyed quite a bit. However, I read them for school so I’m not sure I would have read them unless they were assigned.  

JJ: I like that you’re so into battles. I’d like to share with the readers, for their enjoyment and my embarrassment, that while we were on spring break together in Florida with a group of friends in college, first we overflowed a dishwasher and then we went for a walk around the vacation compound where we were staying and you and some of the other gentlemen had a battle in front of a pond, where apparently there was an alligator or something, but I didn’t notice because I was drunk and really enthralled by the wrestling. How many of those details have I messed up because they’ve all been told to me second-hand?

SO: Well the Dishwasher was definitely my fault. As for the walk, all my details came second hand too, but I was told we were wrestling because I wanted to take a shortcut through the alligator-infested pond. So those brave gentlemen saved my life that day.  

JJ: Do you read the internet? Why does or doesn’t that count in the realm of being a “reader?”

SO: Sure I read articles here or there. Mostly I’m looking for a humorous article or something specific on a topic I heard somewhere. I guess I don’t think that qualifies as being a reader because its so short. For me, spending 10 minutes reading a article on something frivolous seems just like a way to waste time instead of a worthwhile activity. I often use the internet articles to procrastinate from other things I should be doing.    

JJ: Are there books that you’ve heard about recently that you’re interested in reading?  What are they? Why?

SO: My friend’s have told me about the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. They make it sound really fun and interesting. I even bought the first 4, but they too are sitting on my bookshelf neglected. I think I’m just easily sold on the idea of books.

JJ: Oh, yes. I’ve meant to read those, too. I’ve never read Stephen King! Well, stories, but not whole books. But I want to! I love being scared. Have you read any of his? And I hear you. My book eyes are bigger than my stomach, too.

SO: No this will be my first time reading Stephen King. Although I have friends who have read quite a bit of his works and they’ve loved it. So I’m really looking forward to it.

JJ: Do you think that you do something else that takes the place of reading, like in the time that otherwise reading might happen?  Or that satisfies you in a similar way to how reading used to?

SO: I watch a lot of television. I prefer watching television to movies because I enjoy watching a character develop and change. In movies you only get 2 hours with a character where as a television season will give you 24 hours. A lot more can happen. Books are similar to TV in that you can follow a character around and know everything they are thinking. I just like hearing a story. I don’t think that how I hear a story matters as much.

JJ: Man, I agree about TV vs. movies, especially right now. I really love that some books are being sold as TV series now instead of trying to crush all that content into a movie. Series seems to make the most sense for that, because you can do like, one season for every book, but they’re even selling the stories of one-off books, too, which is fascinating to me: that the characters might extend beyond where the author originally intended! I think that idea is strange and exciting. It could go so wrong! But maybe it will be great. What shows do you like right now?  I’m only watching Breaking Bad and Weeds right now, which shows that I’m only interested in shows where a parent is forced into drug peddling because of a tough situation. Just kidding. I think i might start Boardwalk Empire next!

SO: It seems like a lot of the author’s are being brought on board for the shows’ production so I wonder if they use that to correct things they wished they could or just want to be faithful to their work.  I like Dexter quite a bit, which is a book series as well. Although the book and the series took a dramatically different path from each other. Which is quite cool and confusing if you are following both. I’ve read the first two books of the Dexter series. Justified has been brilliant and I would highly recommend it to anyone. The villains on Justified are amazing.  I haven’t seen Breaking Bad yet, I’m waiting til its over and then I’ll watch it all straight through. I really prefer the DVD/Streaming way of watching TV now where you watch several episodes in one sitting as opposed to waiting week to week.

JJ: Is there anything you miss about reading? Do you regret not reading more or are you cool with it? Do you want to read more? Why or why not?

SO: I do wish I read more, but sometimes the idea of sitting down to read is so exhausting. I hope once school is over I’ll have some time and energy to read again.

JJ: I know you’re in school right now for nursing. Has that involved a fair amount of reading? How do you tackle it?

SO: I would not say its a fair amount of reading. It is an overwhelming amount of reading. The amount of knowledge required is immense and the time available to get it done is quite limited. There is no other option but to dive in a get it done. I take a lot of breaks because the reading is so dry, but you can’t procrastinate too much or you’ll get left behind. When I am finished with my assigned reading the thought of reading anything else is painful.

JJ: Man, I am a JERK. “A fair amount.” I guess I wasn’t sure if at a certain point, the reading drops off and it more clinical practice or something.  But I can’t imagine the amount of reading it must take to become a nurse! I don’t blame you for not wanting to read for fun when you’re done reading for school. It’s so exciting that you’re getting so close though!  I want to know what the first book you pick up when you’re done is. For real. I think it would  be great to check back in.  I hope it’s something really fun and rewarding.

Now, having just established that you have far too much to read and don’t want to read for pleasure right now, I will make the same request I will always make after I’m done asking these questions:

1) Would you like to try to read a book with me? It can be super short. And then I’d ask you a few questions about how you liked/disliked/abandoned the book.

2) Do you wanna pick a book that I read with you and we do the same? We talk for a short time about it? I will say right now: No, I will not read a nursing textbook with you.

3) Would you like to tell me to buzz off?  No hard feelings. It has been clearly established that you are a busy guy and I’m so thankful for the time you’ve already given to this. It’s been so nice chatting with you about reading!

SO: This sounds nice but I won’t be able to pick up something until late December when schools done. If that timing works out for you, just let me know what you want me to read.

JJ: No problem! As noted, this makes perfect sense. So nice to catch up and good luck with the end of the semester!

image: Jac Jemc