As the holidays loom for us all on both sides of the world I wonder how many of you are planning some lovely indulgent reading time. Perhaps in bed, as the rain howls and the snow flutters down, or on the beach, baking yourself all crispy like the Christmas turkey.
For several years when I was at uni wading my way through English and Psychology and reading books that were chosen by their thickness of spine I rebelled at Christmas and read and re-read Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. I actually loved it. And like others was not impressed by the TV mini series that eventually followed. But for a few summers it was my un-wind and de-stress book. Indeed I took my banana lounge out into the sun, turned up the cricket on the radio and read for hours. It was bliss.
So when I went anywhere, traveling, even if only to the beach for the day, I packed a book. It seemed to me a book was an essential item. Needless to say I packed a ton of books when we went to China for three months and read my way through Schindler’s List amongst others. My poor boy had a list of classics he was expected to read given his age and greed for knowledge. I am pleased that he remains an avid reader despite his predilection for the Sciences. He was less than impressed by not getting a book for Christmas last year.
One of the best present for me, forever has been books. You will not, dear reader, be surprised by this as I am an avid reader and writer as well as seasoned English teacher. I can’t remember my first book but I know books have been part of the business of gifting all my life. I used to get an annual of some description – name completely eludes me – but it was expected and enjoyed for many years. Birthdays are also great times for books.
What surprises and saddens me is that if I tell my students that we give books at Christmas many of them look at me in horror and amazement. A book – as a present – why? Well, clearly they would be aghast given it seems to cause them physical pain to open a book in class. To read a book outside of class wouldn’t even occur to them. It absolutely does not. What has happened to the world?
I wonder at a world where books don’t exist. It reminds me of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s book where a future society outlaws books and any that are found are burned. Ironically many of my students would approve of such a world. Reading for them is a sort of medieval torture, something they must be forced to do. Worryingly this attitude does not reside only amongst the bottom dwellers of our fine educational establishments but abounds amongst many of the brighter stars.
Disclaimer here: not all students are anti-reading, not all hate books, but a worrying amount do.
I wonder why so many are profoundly anti-reading, anti-books. It’s not just the screen-generation; it’s not just the attention spans of the much derided goldfish. It has to be in the home, it has to come from parents who also don’t read, who don’t value books or quiet, or the imagination. (It’s what’s called a trans-generational effect.) Ah, and there’s the thing – too many of our young people lack an imagination. Too many have no inner worlds of their own based on some magical place they read about and appropriated for themselves. They like a book on the screen: they know the stories of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings but they only know them as imagined by the producers of these films. Peter Jackson’s imagination dominates the world. How sad is that?
I am reminded of my China experience here. I’d read The English Patient not long before we visited in Shanghai and it was out on DVD. One of the exchange students offered to get it for me but I knew it was too soon between reading and viewing. I knew that the DVD would disappoint me, it would not be true to my version of the book, and worst of all, the book would be diminished for me. So, I waited, and for a number of years before I watched the film of the book. And I was not disappointed. I ended up loving both versions. I re-watch and re-read and am happy that my version is still in tact.
A Christmas book story. Last year my beloved big girl bought my beloved the first books of The Game of Thrones and the first two series on DVD. We entered into an agreement: that we would not watch the shows until the books were read. My husband was encouraged to re-boot his reading through this slightly briberous (sp!) arrangement and so we have been true. Books come first. Always.
Reading is not just about the imagination, about the writers and the readers. It is about many things that make us human, that reinforce our humanity.
Here is a brief list of why we should read and encourage those around us to do the same-
1.Reading helps your vocabulary, and understanding of grammar and expression
2.Reading fires the imagination, it enables you to think and dream
3.Reading enhances your empathy through getting into the heads and lives of characters and traveling with them
4.Reading tells you about life – its magic, its beauty and its tragedy
5.Reading tells you you’re not alone – there are others out there like you
6.Reading allows us to experience things we might not dare try in life
7.Reading enhances your ability to concentrate and focus on matters
8.Quite simply, reading makes you a better person, a more compassionate person, a person who makes the world a better place
I know books speak to us differently and that’s as it should be. Books from different times of our lives mean more to us too, but there’s always a new book out there waiting to be discovered, devoured and shared. Make sure you share the books you love. Buy books for Christmas and keep your fingers crossed that Santa has one for you too, so you can sneak off after all the festivities and escape to another world of wonder. (images courtesy Private Collection)