Monday, 30 November 2009
Playing Devils's Advocate: N M Browne
In an earlier blog post there was the suggestion was that one of the aims of education might be to encourage children to love reading. Now I believe passionately that every child should be taught how to read, but that is about it. This is a dangerous thing to say here, but I’m not sure that people who love reading are actually that much use.
Now I am talking specifically about reading fiction here and not the great jewels of English literature either, because great writing and great thinking is always needed. A small number of precious books have changed the world and every child should have the chance to read them. However, if you walk into any of the (remaining) grand emporia of the written word the greater proportion of material on the shelves isn’t particularly great and I suppose it must be what most of us are reading ( if we are reading at all) or they would be in even worse trouble than they already are. This stuff is the OK stuff with which I have filled too many of my waking hours. The kindest thing that could be said about my writing taste is that it is eclectic.
I was a mal coordinated child, egotistical and narcissistic as all children are and not good at making friends. From the first time I managed to read for myself a whole sentence of story ( written by the much maligned Enid Blyton ) I was hooked as surely as if fiction were crack cocaine and story has been my addiction ever since. I read my way through my infant school, closeted in the book cupboard, I read my way through a whole year of maths in junior school and never did learn long division. I read through most of my adolescence, living only in a kind of lucid dream My children’s infancy were the years of sleep deprivation and door stop fantasy read against the background drone of Ringo Starr narrating ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’. The sound of the theme tune even today induces instant catatonia and dreams of elves. How many conversations have I not had because I was lost in a book? How many times have I been absent when I ought to have been present? In fiction I could be anyone, do anything and what I could do in fiction I didn’t have to do in life. And there’s the rub. Why bother to change the world when you can read about other people doing it (and succeeding,) why bother to change yourself when in fiction you can be anyone you want to be?
My children quite like reading and that’s fine by me, I actively don’t want them to love it. I don’t want it to be for them what it has been for me, my addiction, my obsession, my crutch and my refuge. I want them to love living not reading about it.