The importance of books

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Reading is an activity that affects people and societies to a huge extent, but in totally different ways. Personally I find reading to be an intensely enjoyable experience, especially reading fiction. The idea that someone wouldn’t like to curl up with a cup of tea and their favourite book is anathema to me. Reading was introduced to me at a very young age; and it’s instilled in me the belief that getting children to read books as soon as possible is vital.
Neil Gaiman recently gave a lecture at the annual Reading Agency conference about the importance of fiction books, libraries and enjoyment in a good book. He discussed many ideas in his talk, some controversial, some of them less so. One of the more controversial ideas was that he linked the literacy level of a society to its crime rate. He describes that this must be something of a no brainer that the less educated a society is then the higher the crime rate will be. He discusses how in the US the builders of private prisons look at literacy levels in the current generation of eleven and twelve year olds in order to extrapolate how many prison cells they might need for the future. It seems a rather dark and sinister way to guess the number of cells but it remains to be seen if it is in any way accurate: Gaiman doesn’t elaborate on statistics but suggests that it seems to be a formula that has worked so far.
It is a scary thought that in the UK by the time eleven year old children leave primary school, one in five of them will not be able to read and write adequately in order to cope with the work required of them in high school. According to the education minister, we as a nation are lagging behind other European countries in this respect.
The question remains what can actually be done to fix this issue. It is a well known fact that as we move more and more into the age of technology, the way that we digest information is changing. It is becoming more of a struggle to maintain an attention span that is required to read a novel. Why read the whole thing when you can either read the synopsis or just simply watch the film? We need to rediscover our love of the novel, the love of escapism and also to remind ourselves that taking a few hours off our busy internet/on-the-go lives is very much worth it. I confess that it’s been a long time since a novel completely removed me from my surroundings and let me get lost in its pages. In fact the last novels that did that were The Hunger Games trilogy in the Christmas break of last year. I know they’re supposedly teen novels, but upon approaching them for the first time I did get drawn into this fictitious, futuristic world and I read all three in the same number of days. I have, of course, read other novels since then but have not found myself turning to them in lieu of other activities as much as I did then.
There is something incredible about the feeling you get when you discover a book or an author you love. It is almost a given that you will feel a lot more satisfaction from picking up a book and reading it than you will from surfing nameless internet websites for a couple of hours. As Neil Gaiman mentioned in his lecture, books are about freedom; “freedom of ideas, freedom of communication […] about entertainment, about safe spaces, and about access to information”, and I think it’s very important that we take advantage of all of those things from time to time. So step back from your busy day, the articles and books you’re being forced to read for your course, and remind yourself what it is to love reading. Find your favourite book from childhood or your teenage years, pair it with a comfy spot to sit in, a little bit of peace and quiet and your favourite hot drink and you’ve got the recipe for an intensely enjoyable few hours. Rediscover reading, and you might even find that you still love it.

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