Monday, 21 June 2021

Reading for Pleasure by Anne Booth

As a child growing up in the 1970s, I lost lots of time off school. Between the ages of 6 and 16 I rarely had more than 3 days attendance in a week, and was often off for a week or two weeks at a time. The reasons were complex - asthma didn't help - but the reason why my whole education wasn't ruined was that I read voraciously for pleasure . As I grew older, missing school did impact me socially and also, from being very good at Maths at Primary school, I fell behind with more advanced Maths and school absence probably did contribute to me losing my way with Physics and Chemistry, but reading definitely helped me keep on top of subjects like English, History,  Religious Education, and French literature. Reading also helped me, isolated at home, still meet people and encounter situations outside my own world and family. It distracted me and made me happy when I was sad, or unable to change situations  which I knew made my family unhappy. 

I read, from an early age, comics like 'Twinkle' and 'Bunty' and 'Tammy' and 'Mandy' and Children's Annuals, like 'Treasure' and 'Look and Learn' and 'The Blue Peter Annuals', but also, simultaneously, when I felt like it, I read classics of children's literature, like 'Anne of Green Gables', or 'The Secret Garden' , but also classics of adult literature like 'Oliver Twist' by Dickens or  'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Brontë. I read books which were 'too young' for me and books which were 'too old'. I read books which had been published and written for children decades, or even a century before me, as well as contemporary children's books. I read, and kept reading, books for adults by P.G. Wodehouse, and Jerome K Jerome, and I loved books for children about Jennings and Just William and Paddington. I still do. I read natural history books, history books, even books about prayer and spirituality. I had access to the books because I had older brothers, and also because of weekly jumble sales my mum took me to, and because of occasional  trips to a public or, when I was at school, my school library, and because my mum had lots of prayer books and books on spirituality, and had also invested in a set of Arthur Mee's Children's Encylopedia, which she paid off in instalments to help my brothers and me with our education. I loved picking up a volume and reading random articles, and that pleasure helped my general knowledge, and that helped me at school.

I don't need to push the importance of children reading for pleasure on to readers of this blog. But I just want to say that, as an adult, it is also OK to read voraciously for pleasure, and to read all sorts. I do wonder if we should lead by example. If we think children should be allowed to read for pleasure, then do we truly allow ourselves to relax and enjoy all sorts of reading, and admit to it? Do we hide a secret enthusiasm for magazines, for, e.g. romantic or detective novels, for thrillers or commercial blockbusters or even for difficult literary novels? Do we accept that adults too can enjoy, at the same time, reading poetry for pleasure, and romantic fiction, and non-fiction, and detective fiction, and historical fiction, as well as history - social and political and cultural, popular and/or academic - and children's books, and YA books and graphic novels and books about science fiction and politics and economics and theology and spirituality and books about music - popular, folk or classical - and art and natural history and other non-fiction books, and pattern books and maps and gardening books and car manuals etc. Are we embarrassed by our love of a particular genre which we worry is too 'easy', or self-conscious about being pretentious and admitting to liking things which are too 'hard', like philosophy or experimental fiction or works in translation? Can we admit to liking different things for different reasons? If not, why not? Who, or what, are we afraid of? If we want children to feel free to read for pleasure, are we truly allowing ourselves to be free too, or are we anxiously  constrained by our social media image or profile, or as writers, our 'brand'?

So that's all I have to say, really. I don't want children to be ashamed of what they like reading - and I love how a good librarian and teacher can help children find the books they will truly enjoy - to inspire and push them but never shame them. In the same way, I'd like adults also to not feel they have to only enjoy - or admit to enjoying - reading -or writing - one type of book. We have all been through such a lot during this pandemic - when we go back into bookshops and libraries, let's not limit ourselves to one or two sections - let's read voraciously for pleasure and discover the wisdom that comes from letting ourselves encounter and explore other worlds - and bookshop sections - and let's not be ashamed, if we truly love something,  to share what we discover!


Susan Price said...

Well said, Anne!

Joan Lennon said...

I agree!

Nick Garlick said...

Absolutely! Reading is fun. If it isn't fun, what's the point? My book club chose War and Peace and I dutifully read it. All of it. But I learned more about human nature - good and bad - from Stephen King's Under the Dome.

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