books are important to me. i have loved books for as long as i can remember and i can’t imagine being without them.
reading was encouraged at school and we kept records of the books we read and progress that was made. while that might be seen as making reading a chore it also made it something i learnt to do on a regular basis. so the reading primers of school turned into adventures by enid blyton. then i discovered thrillers and science fiction – ian fleming’s james bond, ed mcbain’s 87th precinct stories, robert heinlein’s starship troopers, frank herbert’s dune. words on the page transported me to fantastic, dangerous and thrilling places.
somewhere around this time i also began reading comics.
the love affair with reading has never stopped.
school may have started me off, but my dad gets the credit for making sure my love of books was able to grow (ironically years later my mum became a voracious reader of crime and horror books).
reading is one of the great pleasures of life. i even enjoyed reading to the kid when i was doing my step-dad duties – even though i didn’t share the same enjoyment of asterix as the kid did. mind you i am not a deep reader, none of that delving into themes and ideas i am more of a flash bang wallop kind of guy who just wants thrilling entertainment. it is why i never managed to continue with english literature, i wanted to read for fun, i didn’t want to be hard work.
so to this day i am still a reader of genre fiction, with the occasional political or historical text thrown in for fun.
over the weekend it was reported that there is a gender gap between the boys and girls when it comes to reading; the girls are leaving the boys behind.
apparently boys think it is nerdy and or girly to read books. it is not that the boys can’t read it is more that they don’t read. some of this is explained away by the fact that there are not many male role models in primary and junior schools to encourage boys to read. family life also carries its share of the blame – partly in the form that some parents do not take an active interest in their kid's education and when they do it seems they offer more encouragement to girls to read than to boys.
admittedly things have changed drastically since i was a kid. my entertainment choices were: tv (three channels and in black and white), the radio, books and comics. today’s generation of kids is confronted with much more choice including: more tv channels, dvds, computers, mobile phones, console games, tablets and more. (and to think they are always using the ‘we haven’t anything to do’ mantra for when they needs to excuse their poor behaviour). given all that there is little wonder that there are reluctant readers out there!
yet why aren’t girls so hindered? they have exactly the same choices for time wasting as boys, but they keep reading. is it because they are encouraged to do so? is it because there are more books out there that appeal to girls? (where is the equivalent to katie price for the boys market – i am sure a ghost written wayne rooney novel would go down a storm). is it that the girls have more patience than boys (a study from 2011 claimed that most boys are bored of a book by the time they get to page 100).
even though i would never go near a harry potter book (with or without ‘adult’ covers), it was amazing to see the interest in reading that they generated (and bookshops loved the sounds of cash registers ringing), somehow though this hasn’t translated into getting boys to read books.
maybe it is time to move the focus from books – but on other things such as magazines, newspapers (sports pages, reviews pages – the bits that might interest them (ok maybe not the bit where the page 3 girl tells you what they like to do with the sunday roast), short story collections, comics. nor does it have to be just on the printed page as so many kids seem to be welded to their phones why not use that as a way of getting them to read – short adventure stories: snippets that they read and respond to in order to get the next bit. (and these sorts of strategies are going to be even more important thanks to the con/dems decision to close libraries across the country even though nick gibbs, schools minister, has said "reading for pleasure is key to boosting a young person's life chances. as a government, improving reading standards in schools is central to all our education reforms.”
reading should be fun, and people should do it for pleasure as well as for learning. reading develops imagination; it allows people to glimpse other cultures, places and worlds. reading is important because it is a source of information and information is, as we all know, power. more importantly for kids reading for pleasure, according to unesco, is an indicator of their future success at school.
for me the recipe to becoming a reader was simple in addition to the obvious ingredients add in a regular serving of comics (habit forming) and novels that were not too long (pleasure of finishing a book in a short period of time) – they added up to a lifelong habit.
it’s a habit more people should have.