Hello little bloggers, this is the follow up to the exciting post that I turned 21 a little while ago. Yes, I am now officially an adult apparently. This did not stop me from spending the day running around London searching for benches moulded to look like books. Painted to resemble either a book, an author, or perhaps an illustrator they are dotted around the capital like trophies to portray the brilliance of our capacity to write. There are fifty benches in total and four different trails each to take the searcher on an adventure. On the way you may encounter Paddington bear or perhaps the slightly maddening Dr Seuss. Yes, there is a bench for every type of reader.
The question that has been created through spending the day like an excited child running around the city searching for these brightly coloured statues is; how important is reading? It may be something that we all take for granted; I certainly do. I was brought up on a rich diet of reading. Whether it was spending every Saturday snuggled on a bean bag in the local library devouring every book I could get my hands on, or sat on my parents lap being read to day or night, (The Witches by Roald Dahl was so frightening that it had to be read in the afternoon after school.) I was (luckily) exposed to books from a very young age. In school I raced through the rising reading levels so that I could be allowed free reign on the library. This meant being able to pick my own books; I could travel through steamy, humid jungles laced with dangerous animals, or I could go swimming underwater darting in and out of stunningly colourful coral; reading was ultimately an escape. However, as I’ve grown older and read more I have realised that reading opens so many more doors than my original belief that reading was good because it was enjoyable.
It was reported in the Guardian that ‘Reading for pleasure at the age of 15 is a strong factor in determining future social mobility. Indeed, it has been revealed as the most important indicator of the future success of the child.’ The article picked a difficulty between making children read and making them read for pleasure. Reading for pleasure is, unlike my younger self thought, not just for enjoyment (although this is a factor) but is a tool for social interaction. Reading encourages a number of important skills including mental stimulation, increased knowledge, better cultural and social understanding, an expansion of vocabulary, improved focus and concentration, better written skills, increased content for conversation, among many (many) others. However, technology is taking over, we are losing our ability to communicate. I remember speaking to a friend at university who simply said ‘I don’t read.’ I remember exclaiming you don’t…. but he was adamant. If reading is not introduced as a pleasurable activity does it have an adverse reaction on our ability to communicate correctly? No, not exactly, but our want to positively communicate may be stimulated by our want to read for pleasure.
Going back to my own personal experience, I can firmly say that pleasure through reading can be built into youngsters by allowing a greater access to books of all types of reading. When I was ten, I was allowed to pick out books that I loved and that was when I stumbled across the books that festered a love for reading that have stuck with me for eleven years (and counting!) I discovered the beauty of Sherlock Holmes (who greatly influenced my desire to work in the publishing industry) I discovered child-friendly versions of Treasure Island and Dracula that I quickly read and then went on to discover the adult versions. The point I am making is, it was the ability to read books that weren’t just part of the curriculum. I remember other pupils jealously asking why I could read whatever I wanted and me smugly smiling and running up to the library to gain another great book. But what about those that didn’t master the frightfully boring books that are standard as a curriculum choice. Those that leave school without discovering the beauty of prose, of character build up, of adventure and excitement. As I said above we each have different likes and dislikes, but what if each child could, read what they wanted to, and were allowed to communicate and discuss the books that they personally enjoy.
Moving forward to A level English even though a strong and very enthusiastic reader I hated, yes hated, each of the books that I read through my A levels. Enduring Love, A street car named desire, The Great Gatsby, Frankestein, I disliked and refused to read every one of them. I became a recluse in English Lit, and yet at home I was reading everything I could get my hands on. Here however we tumble into the problem of the ‘cannon of classics.’ I am going to make a statement here; I don’t believe that the classics are the be all and end all. When I was around fifteen I got myself in a right pickle that I hadn’t read enough of said classics. I sat down with a pile desperate to get myself through them and ended up in a pile of salty tears. I understand that knowledge of the classics is said to show ‘cultural identity,’ and ‘show the importance of heritage.’ I loved reading and yet English Literature lead me to question everything that I had ever thought about reading. Yet, when given the choice, the selection, the beauty of a choice, we can stimulate the pleasure of reading and communicate as to our desire.
Travelling to London on the train to my 21st birthday, I was surrounded by technological devices. The child in front was watching a film on tablet, the mother was tapping enthusiastically on her blinking iphone, the father was chatting on the phone to another person, far away from reality. The little girl was the only one disengaged and staring into space. When did we become less interested in the people around us than the people excitedly chatting to us through screen. When we stopped reading for pleasure…that’s when.