Reading for Pleasure

The Importance Of Reading For Pleasure

The Importance Of Reading For Pleasure

Author: Sam Hardcastle.
15th January 2021.

Yesterday, after a decade apart, I spent the day with Scout and Jem in Alabama. “How?” I hear you cry. “There’s (another) lockdown. International travel is banned. You’re breaking the rules.” However, for those of you that know, Scout and Jem aren’t real (although I would argue that they are as real to me as my own children) but characters from one of my favourite novels, To Kill a Mockingbird. And, for me, this is the beauty of reading. I didn’t have to leave my home, or even my carefully-constructed groove in the sofa, to immerse myself in a different family, a different country, a different world and spend time with two children I have grown up with.

Reading To Kill a Mockingbird introduced me to the glorious Scout. A child who spoke her mind, spent carefree days exploring her neighbourhood in Maycomb and rallied against societal expectations. She slowly learned that, although the world she inhabited was often cruel and racist, she had the unswerving love of a father, Atticus Finch, who taught her to stand up for what was right and accept who she truly was. It wasn’t the book that made me fall in love with reading (that was Goodnight Mister Tom when I was eight) but it was the book that made me realise there was a big, wide world beyond the suburb I grew up in and I was eager to explore.

Reading has always been a huge part of my life. I was the teenager who eagerly visited the library, with my dad every Saturday morning, scanned the shelves and then devoured, at home, the six novels I was allowed to borrow each week. I adore books - their feel, their smell, their power. I have been known to read into the small hours by torchlight, to ignore my husband for hours and to hide from my children in a lockable toilet, just to satiate my desire to read. And this love of reading has clearly played a part in determining my career as an English teacher.

In terms of a child’s academic development, we all know how important it is to be able to read. The Reading Agency cites studies that show how reading can improve a child’s literacy and numeracy skills, help them access learning across the breadth of the curriculum and expand their critical thinking skills. All very important reasons to pick up a book and ones that will undoubtedly secure positive futures for them, after they leave school.

But these are not the only motivations for reading for pleasure. The Reading Agency research has also shown that the societal and health benefits of reading are just as impressive as the academic ones. Reading enhances empathy and awareness of identity; it helps with positive feelings of self-worth, overcomes some aspects of anxiety and depression, aids more restful sleep, improves social mobility and allows us to feel more connected and less lonely.

In lockdown 3.0, being connected is more important than ever.

So many of us are cut off from our friends, our family and our lives, as we knew them, and feelings of loneliness are becoming more and more common. Reading can help. Picking up a good book not only allows you to escape reality for a while but we are often drawn to books that focus on life issues, to help understand and navigate the world around us. In these books, we find characters just like us, with the same hopes and dreams, the same challenges and - through them - we feel ever-so-slightly less alone.

So, for now, I’m off to have tea with the Finch siblings and hear about Atticus’ day. I can’t wait.

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