Books, in all their many forms, have endured over time because we need them. They help us to make sense of the inexplicable and explore new worlds when life seems difficult. After all, according to poet T.S. Eliot: ‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality.’
Books allow us to articulate what we feel but cannot say and that can be a comfort. Books can also be a pleasant distraction and make us laugh when all round us feels grim.
When I was about 10 years old I joined the local public library and my world expanded gloriously. I lost myself in books of all kinds and marvelled at the authors who could craft such stories from twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks and create a world previously unknown. My dream job as a librarian, has allowed me to share my passion for books and pass this on to many readers so that they too can get lost in the world of Narnia; escape from Panem; vicariously experience the Jewish Holocaust; travel with the First Fleet; survive in the Canadian wilderness or walk in the shoes of an autistic boy. Author, George R.R.Martin opines, ‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…’
So why read?
The benefits of reading are many and go far beyond the obvious improvements to literacy and language. A book can provide an escape from the daily grind and relieve stress and promote positive mindfulness. The act of reading can enhance personal focus and extend your attention span. Reading is good for the brain too as it stimulates neural connections and helps the learning process to acquire knowledge and understandings. Studies at Emory University, Atlanta have found that reading fiction can trick our brain into thinking we are part of the story. The empathy we then feel for fictional characters wires our brains to have the same sensitivity towards real people. Empathy is widely recognized as being a core life skill.
One important and often overlooked benefit is to unleash the power of imagination. Even Einstein was aware of the importance of a powerful imagination. We need individuals with this skill to image things can be different or that there may be another way of existing. And of course, reading can simply provide enjoyment and pleasure.
How do we nurture readers?
Creating readers is a partnership…of access, variety and modelling. Do you have your own home library? At the college we provide a wide variety of books in our libraries to give students opportunities and choice to borrow and read. During our current school closure we have actively promoted our digital collection to those students who prefer to read or listen online. We have also launched the ATCReads@Home initiative which enables boys to request physical books which can then be collected from a designated pickup location. We encourage reading aloud to boys, no matter what the age, both at home or connecting with the various publishers and authors who are offering content online. ATC Digital Library can be found here.
This week we had originally planned to hold our R.A.W. Literary Festival, which would have enabled boys to connect with a variety of authors in real life. Sadly, this has been postponed. One of our invited guests was Jack Heath, a popular author who began his career at the ripe old age of 13! Jack was recently awarded the 2020 Ena Noel prize for his book, 500 Minutes of Danger and in his acceptance speech, he noted that young people seem to have lost the skill of imagination. He suggested it may be related to more screen time, less reading time. And maybe he’s right.
It is never too late to start reading. Children’s author, Andy McNabb was nearly 17 before he read his first book and has now published over 40 books! F. Scott Fitzgerald struggled with dyslexia, yet he still wrote many novels including the classic The Great Gatsby.
Find your nook, grab a book and just read.
How books can open your mind
Head of Library Services