I was stuck between two subjects this month, but it really is nearly Christmas (please don’t shoot!), so I’m going to go for the happier subject, and make it brief.
On the 17th of November (coincidentally - shameless plug alert - the publication date for my new book), I was invited to Thurston Community College in Suffolk to help launch their latest Reading Challenge. I was vaguely aware that things like this went on in schools, but it was a superb reminder of how much the enthusiasm and drive of schools matters in all our lives. The staff at Thurston think that emphasising the unique pleasure of reading is the best way to persuade students to read, and to that end have even appointed a ‘Reading Tsar’, Mr Harrison, who organises the Reading Challenge (other staff are involved, too, but unfortunately I didn’t get any of their surnames in the bustle).
There were readings – some from me and some from a few talented students, and talk and tea and biscuits and book sales and book passports, but the highlight for me was being given the opportunity to stand up in front of an audience of interested children and parents and tell them how much I love reading, and how important I think it is.
When I was preparing for the visit, in spite of the fact that I can bore on for England about how much I, personally, love books, I had to think long and hard to explain the reasons why, exactly, I consider reading so important. Despite the fact that I write every day, it wasn’t easy to find the words for something I feel so deeply. But in the end I boiled it down to this:
Reading is the best way to join the universal, vital quest to understand human nature. When you open a book, you are opening yourself up to the possibility of trying to understand someone else’s ideas. It’s incredibly important, right now, when there’s so much rubbish spoken in the media and over the internet about how the opinions of a majority are the only ones that count and everybody else should just shut up because their opinions are worthless. This isn’t the way to a peaceful world.
We need hope and faith not only in ourselves but in our fellow humans, and to that end, it’s so important that we try to listen to other people’s ideas. Books are the biggest, most detailed, oldest, newest resource we’ve got to help us understand each other. All human life is in books – people have been writing for thousands of years, they’re writing today, and they’ll be writing on and on into the future.
I so believe it’s true. If we watch the world as it whizzes by, it often feels like we’re just being shouted at. If we read, we have autonomy, and time to think and analyse. Reading is how the past talks to us, authentically, in its own voice, and how the murky future sometimes flashes ominously before us.
Reading is great.
And being invited into a school and asked to say that out loud? Such a massive privilege.
|The Book of Storms - picture by Nicolas Delort|