So, as we busy ourselves planning events to celebrate World Book Day this week, it seems fitting to take a moment to marvel at the power of the written word. Reading at its most basic level enables us to function in the world as human beings. How can we know which way to turn (literally) if we can’t read the road signs? How can we feed ourselves if we can’t read supermarket labels, restaurant menus or recipes? How can we socialise if we can’t read posts on Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter? (Those of a certain generation would say socialise in person, but you take my point).
With few exceptions we all learn to read. For many, it becomes not only a life-long habit, but precious moments every day to be treasured, the ‘balm of hurt minds’, to quote Shakespeare. Ok, Macbeth has just murdered his king and is panicking about never sleeping again, but we all need a little ‘balm’ to sooth our minds, and reading offers that. It is an escape into a world where we can discover, learn, find comfort, find answers, empathise, understand – the list is endless. That’s not hyperbole.
But to some, once they have the ability to read, they stop reading for pleasure. ‘I can’t find anything I want to read!’ Really? On ‘Super Thursday’, back in October 2018, 544 books were published in the UK. 544 books. In one day. And our young people can’t find anything they want to read? I don’t accept that. They’re not looking hard enough. And that’s the point about reading: like anything else worth doing, it takes effort and commitment. ‘I’m too busy!’ Really? We’ve all heard or delivered the mantra, ‘Well, you’re not too busy for your phone!’ haven’t we? I know I have. We all need our phones but we also need to set aside time for reading. I absolutely believe it should be the last thing we all do before lights out, every night. Hopefully for the sheer enjoyment, but if that’s a stretch too far, for the benefits. I have to talk exams for a moment: our exam system in the UK favours students who can read fast. This comes from practice. There are nearly as many words on a GCSE Chemistry paper as there are on an English one. It isn’t just about succeeding in English – reading is cross-curricular. Easter of Year 11 is too late to suddenly realise you need a wide vocabulary and vital skimming skills – this comes from years of effort and practice.
The World Book Day manifesto (written by young people) says reading is growth, choice, power and knowledge. We could all use some of that, and all you have to do is pick up a book. So, as we celebrate the joy of reading this week, guessing which books teachers are reading, enjoying our annual ‘DEAR’ moment (Drop Everything And Read) and beginning a Readathon challenge, take a moment to think about your reading habits. And then take lots of moments every day to read.