The only time I ever talk to a complete stranger is when I notice them reading a book that I’ve read or want to read. I was waiting to see a doctor once and I was next to a woman reading a Kate Atkinson book. We talked for ages about the book, her other books, crime books in general. It was a good way to pass the time but it also gave me a huge amount of pleasure. When I got home I found myself looking at my Atkinson books again, thinking about the characters, stacking them neatly in the order in which they’d been written.
Book groups are like this. A meeting at a book group can spark an interest in a writer you’ve never thought of, a book you’d dismissed in the past, a genre you wouldn’t usually touch with a bargepole.
The TALK about books is the trigger here. Hearing a book talked about makes me interested in reading it. Talking to others about the books I’ve read also gives me huge pleasure. When I meet friends for lunch we talk about books. It’s not just the passing on of info ABOUT the books, its summing them up, unpeeling their meanings, picking a teasing bit of the story lines to interest my friends.
Where am I going here?
Teenagers need to be able to TALK about books. In my view this might be JUST AS IMPORTANT as reading them. Many schools do sterling jobs of promoting reading among their students with great libraries, class libraries, book groups and so on. What I’d like them to do is provide time for students to TALK about the books they’ve read/would like to read.
Instead of putting twenty minutes aside for quiet reading what about putting the odd twenty minutes aside for students to talk to each other about the books they’ve read. It could be done in a number of ways.
1. Pick six students to give brief talks on their two favourite books.
2. In pairs the students come up with a list of books they’d take to a desert island.
3. Play JUST A MINUTE where random students talk about a book for one TIMED minute.
4. Have a book in a brown paper bag (are there such things any more?) The student holds it up and talks about it without giving the title. People try and guess.
5. TIME THIS. SPEED BOOKS (like speed dating). Everyone has a different book. You sit with someone for ten mins and talk about each book. At the end you fill in a form to say which books you are interested in reading.
I can feel teachers groaning. This is not so tranquil as asking them to read quietly for twenty minutes.
But if this kind of ‘BOOKTALK’ becomes the norm then the reading will go on elsewhere. If books are TALKED about they will be read; in bedrooms, in armchairs, on buses, in lunch hours, in libraries and even, under the desk, in other lessons!