Obviously as a writer and English teacher I would believe and promote this statement: that reading books matters. But why more than ever you may ask?
Well, as we also know the world has turned very dark – threats, lies, rampant untruths, offence, dissent, violence and death abound. We are bombarded with a litany of disasters every day on the news – wherever we get it – and while some might argue it is no worse than it has ever been it simply does seem to be worse. Our senses are assaulted almost minute by minute by the latest disaster, the latest atrocity.
Indeed, Ted Turner (winner of the Sydney-Hobart Yacht race and the America’s Cup, but significantly here, the man who brought us CNN) has a lot to answer for in making the news a 24 hour event – giving us trash and trivia as well as doom and disaster on a never-ending loop.
There are six compelling reasons why reading literature is more important than ever:
1.Escapism. Have you noted the rise of thrillers, fantasy, erotica and romance? They are all escapist fiction, allowing us to enter a world nothing like ours, where we can forget the rest of the world, its ugly big problems and our own worrying smaller problems. Other fiction has the same effect – we like to immerse ourselves in different worlds, escaping to the problems of others, which invariably make us feel a bit better about our own life. Series fiction is so popular because of this – we get caught up in the characters’ lives and we want to stay with them for as long as possible. (Yes, films too, and Peter Jackson understands this better than almost anyone else on the planet!)
2.Truth. There is, to be clichéd, more truth in fiction than anywhere else. Writers of fiction are freer to tell their truth through stories and characters, than reporters and journalists. Through stories we learn the truth of relationships, of how the world works, how things don’t tie up in neat bows – think of Jay Gatsby, Gone Girl, Madame Bovary. Great Expectations tells us how foolish it is to hold onto bitterness all your life – that it kills you.
3.Knowledge. We can learn about things in fiction – how the world was – history and bits of it, how different cultures operate, how people behaved in certain eras and that some behaviours were okay then but not now. Think of Of Mice and Men, where Crooks is called the n* word repeatedly which leads to a discussion of how racism works and how language shifts and changes. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas tells us about the idiocy of the Holocaust. Xavier Herbert tells of the challenges and problems of life in early northern Australia in Capricornia. Hilary Mantel gave us a whole new insight into Tudor times and Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall.
4.Thinking intelligently. Reading good literature that explores ideas and issues – like The Life of Pi, The Slap, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, The Kite Runner, The Satanic Verses, 1984, Lord of the Flies, etc – challenges our views of the world. Reading makes us think and consider ideas that make us feel uncomfortable, enable us to accept different views of the world – which is vitally important at the moment. Discussing ideas and searching for the evidence in the text to support our ideas enables us to think at a deeper level, it takes us from the emotional response to the considered intellectual response – which we really need at the moment. Which is why literature in schools cannot be under-rated.
5.Reading makes us better people. You may laugh, but there are several studies that show that people who read fiction – especially literary fiction, where the writing and ideas are more complex – are more empathetic, more attuned to others, and more successful in their careers and relationships.
6.Reading is a simple pleasure. Reading is one of life’s best bits. You can do it anywhere, anytime. It pleases me to travel on the trains and see the amount of people reading – novels, kindles and the papers. Reading is cheap and easy – it needs nothing special for it to work – just you and the book and a comfy space. Do it now!
Reading teaches us how to think, how to move beyond our own experience, how to engage with the world in a considered, thoughtful way. People who don’t read really are missing out on so many things. Parents who do not encourage – no, parents who do not MAKE their children read should be put in jail. Reading fiction – picture books as kidlets, then the various age appropriate books (see previous blogs for books for various ages) on the way to bone fide adult fiction – is not something to be brushed over or given up at the end of primary school. It is a vital experience, an essential skill for life.
Let me make this crystal clear: reading makes you a better, more rounded, educated and thoughtful person. And we desperately need more thinking people in the world today.
What are you reading these days? Are you reading or have you stopped too? (Images from Private Collection)