During my day to day life some people view my reading habit as odd and unusual. By that I mean I am always reading a book. Always. I never read more than one at once, but am always reading. In a spare 5 minutes, or on a bus, train platform, in a waiting room etc, my default is not to pick up phone and play a game, but to read a book. When I don’t have my book with me and I’m waiting, I will pop on Twitter, but I’d much prefer to read a book.
Among my group of friends my reading habit is not unusual as most of them are always reading as well, but outside that circle, during my day job or when I meet strangers or friends of friends, I sometimes get funny looks. To them it is unusual. Normally, if I can, I ask them why they don’t read and the responses vary. Other people have spoken at length and with far more clarity than I about why reading, books and libraries are important, for example Neil Gaimain’s recent lecture on why our future depends on libraries, so I won’t go over that. I wanted to focus more on the type of responses I have received over the years.
Some people have told me they only read one or two books a year, and one of them might be on holiday around the swimming pool. A paperback they pick up at the airport and then throw away as it’s been covered in sun tan lotion and the spine has been cracked and the cover bleached by the sun. Some say they simply don’t have time to read, which I would argue isn’t true, but I don’t press the point as reading obviously isn’t something they want to pursue. Others see reading as a chore, and not something you would choose to do for fun. As if they had to endure it at school and looking back on it gives them a chill and bad memories, as pulling apart the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner down the atomic level at school, does for me. I’m not sure I ever want to read that poem again, so thank my high school English Literature teacher for that and for ruining Shakespeare for me as well.
When I see that horrified reaction to reading I feel sorry for those people and I really pity them, because they’re missing out on so many amazing worlds and so many fantastic stories (fiction and non-fiction) than can shape and change a person, even as an adult. Of course that sort of response isn’t restricted to books, but that’s what I’m focusing on here.
The weirdest and also saddest response I ever heard was a few years. I had been in a new job for a few weeks and my boss saw me reading at lunch in the canteen. She asked what I was reading so I showed her the cover. She’d never heard of it. A few weeks later she saw me reading again, stopped by, looked at the cover and said ‘Another book?’ as if one book was more than enough for a lifetime, or all books are the same and once you’ve tried one, you’ve tried them all. She was genuinely surprised that I would choose to read, for fun, in my spare time.
At school I wasn’t very good at sport, not because I was particularly awful or overweight, but simply because I didn’t really enjoy it as a whole, so didn’t apply myself. If I had enjoyed football more as a boy then perhaps I would have developed a passion for the sport and tried harder. I might even have become a supporter and followed my local team over the years, although I still doubt that. Over the years I tried all sorts of sports and got involved with several to various levels including martial arts, swimming, rugby, and later fencing, but for various reasons they never stuck. I would focus on one for a few years but circumstances would change, sometimes beyond my control, and I’d find myself drifting away and then trying something else.
I distinctly remember in middle school (ages 7-10) sitting on a bench during lunch hour and reading a book, while others ran around on the field chasing a football. Sometimes I would join in, but not very often. I preferred to read about Garion and Aunt Polgara, I scoured the entire myths and legends section of the school library, I regularly visited the library in my home town with my mum and I spent a lot of time in second hand bookshops looking for fantasy books. I remember my mum reading me stories at bedtime when I was very young and being overjoyed (I still am) when I received books at Christmas. I also remember getting annoyed at having to be social and not being allowed to lock myself away and just read my new book, which also still happens.
With the saturation of technology into our daily lives I suspect for some young people growing up today it’s a very different story. What fills me with some hope for the future is that I have several friends with small children and all of them are very passionate about their children’s education and reading is big part of that. Reading has always been a part of my life and always will be and I hope it will be the same for others.