In my son’s school the children have to keep a reading diary more to show that they have been reading rather than a record of what has been read. Today, on FB, someone posted a list of ‘classics’ and asked which you’d read. The BBC believe most people would only have read 6 of them. I think I clicked on at least 80 and there were another 10 which I started but never finished. It was pleasing to see some contemporary titles there like Cloud Atlas (didn’t finish) and Life of Pi (still in my ‘to read’ pile). But there were also a few titles I’d never heard of (can’t remember them now, of course). I would be interested to see how accurate the BBC’s theory was, but of course the results would be contaminated/restrained by the demographics (only people who own a computer and use fb would be able to comment and it is most likely that of those only the ones who had read quite extensively would be interested in making their reading history known). Maybe this is one of those questions that would be great as a computer census question!
So, then I began to think about reading lists and wondered when it was that I’d read all those books. The majority of them were in secondary school when a particular english teacher opened my eyes to classic literature. I read at least 75% of them during my teens. If not for him (and I regret I cannot remember his name but I shall never forget his face) I would never have become the avid reader I am. While my normal English Teacher was away our class was fortunate enough to have him take over. It was, if I remember correctly, from February to May during what is now referred to as Year 9 and he would give me a book every few days. When I’d read it we would have a chat about a particular character or circumstance or decision in the book.
Before he turned up I had read some of the classics – Great Expectations, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables – because they were allowed in the children’s seciton of the library. I’d never dared to venturre out of it and it was always frowned upon for children to be anywhere else in the library. I’d forgotten about that; children were always herded back to their own section in the library I frequented on Ealing Road in Wembley. After the influence of this English teacher though I was no longer content with the offerings in the colourful sideroom. It was he that opened the world of literature to me and the concept of free speech and free thought. From then on I didn’t let a mere ‘over 18s only’ label put me off. No matter that I was only 14. If I didn’t read then I didn’t know and then how could I have an opinion? If I didn’t read how could I find the words to voice it? If I didn’t read… how could I progress? How did he do it? I know I loved reading and he merely had to steer me in the right direction and give me the confidence to explore, but how did he do it? What magical words did he say? Because he didn’t just affect me, he affected every child in that class.
So now, every day, I try to instil that same belief of the importance of literature into every single young mind that enters my library. But I don’t do lists, I do interests. As far as I’m concerned the BBC may be right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is whether everyone is reading – be it a book, a magazine, a comic, a newspaper or a report. That is the real statistic that we need to research.
Everything starts with reading.