I was lucky at school, because the novels I studied for both state exams became life-long friends. I was nervous of the classics to begin with, but I quickly identified with Dickens’s Pip from Great Expectations and fell in love with the Yorkshire moors of Wuthering Heights. I learned to appreciate these two literary greats, but did it encourage me to read after the school bell rang? Eh, unfortunately, no.
Some people seem to be born bookworms, but I’m not sure if that’s really the case. Reading, or rather the love of reading, needs to be fostered and that begins at home. My mother grew up on a farm, where reading was something of a luxury. There was always work to be done, so reading was only done in stolen moments. I, on the other hand, had nothing but time. I was sick a lot as a child and people always brought me books to read in bed. I started with fairytales and comics, then moved onto books like Gulliver’s Travels, The Famous Five and when my sister decided I needed a good scare, Edgar Allen Poe. I loved escaping into this magical world and while I was hardly a book worm, I enjoyed discovering new stories. But as I got older and thankfully my health improved, I left books behind for more teenage pursuits. It was only when I was in my twenties that I reignited my love for reading, reacquainting myself with the wonder of a fully stocked library. I remembered the feeling of possibility I used to get as a child, knowing that I could pick any book I liked (or three) and then return in three weeks time to start the search all over again.
I’m sure the curriculum has changed since I was in school, but I wonder to what extent the teaching has changed? Whether it is stated or merely implied, the message filters down that ‘serious’ books are more important and somehow better than, say, romance novels or children’s books. Book snobbery begins to spoil the experience of reading, just as music snobbery or art snobbery spoils the fun of both creating and enjoying what should be a pleasurable experience. The term ‘Chick Lit’ is a perfect example of this. A whole swathe of talented writers are belittled by this insulting term and consequently, their readers. Reading should, above all, be enjoyable and once this judgmental element is introduced, many people give up on reading altogether.
Reading a certain book doesn’t make you more intelligent any more than drinking absinthe makes you Van Gogh. It’s how you read, as much as what you read.
It’s so important to cultivate a love of reading from an early age, letting children experience reading as a form of self-indulgent relaxation, instead of another intelligence test. The ‘One city, one book’ initiative is a great way of getting the younger generation into reading outside of the classroom. Story Time at your local bookshop or library is another enchanting portal to the world of books, that will teach little ones the joy of losing themselves in the pages of a book. Forget genres, forget what you ‘should’ read, just enjoy reading.