I love books.
Absolutely, utterly, completely adore them. I could quite happily spend every waking minute devouring stories; flicking through pages, inhaling that new (or old!) book smell. It never fails to thrill me that inside every cover exists another world: Worlds of adventure, mystifying magical lands, heart-wrenching tales and bellies full of laughter.
When I was pregnant, I used to read children’s stories to the bump. I’d sing nursery rhymes, poems and create my own tales hoping to somehow instill this love of reading and stories into my unborn child. If a fetus recognises its mother’s voice, then who is to say it can’t develop a love of literature too? That was my outward reasoning anyway although I suspect it had more to do with the fact that it gave me a perfect excuse to read some old childhood favourites!
We read to Jasper from the moment he was born – I used to breastfeed whilst reading aloud Christopher Robin’s adventures in the 100 acre wood. He had a few bedtime stories that we’d read over and over again and other stories that we would dip in and out of. He’d squeal with delight when animals would hide in forests, children would run and hide under beds and various creatures began their eipc adventures in the big, wide world.
We borrow books from the library regularly. Jasper now rushes in desperate to find what’s hiding inside the shelves, searching for whatever he wants to read about that day. My amazon basket is always full of books I think he’d like to share together and now, those he may be able to just start to read himself. My favourite way to buy books though, is in a bookshop. I know they’re cheaper online and I know we need to keep our libraries open and in order to do that, we need to visit them. We complain they’re not stocked with the latest releases, that half the pages are missing and if you can manage to find what you want, it’s usually already on loan and you have to wait 6 weeks for the last borrower to return it.
Oh, but there’s something about a bookshop. Sliding your fingers across the spines of freshly printed books, the rush you feel when you find a book by your favourite author that you have somehow managed to miss. The excitement when you notice that all paperbacks are on ‘buy one get one half price’ – you feel perfectly justified in spending money you don’t have on books you don’t technically *need* and end up buying bags full. I don’t mean to sound frivolous, I’m not in any other way but with books, I just can’t help myself. They’re like the purest form of escapism, new friends you care desperately about and can’t stop thinking about, long after you’ve closed the book at its final page. Sometimes you even forget that the characters are just that. Characters.
I’m almost certain – I hope I’m certain, that my love of reading has been passed on to Jasper. It’s the best gift I feel I could have given him. He dances a jig when he is given a new book, he stares longingly at the pictures of other covers in the back of books he already has, wondering what joys he may find within their pages and begs to hear stories over and over again.
When we’re waiting for an appointment and other children around us are playing on their mother’s phones, Jasper will ask me to make up stories for him and sometimes I’ll ask him to make them up for me. He’s three so of course has had very little (if any!) formal teaching yet he uses such descriptive vocabulary, he draws his listeners in – he gives voices to his characters, he uses adjectives and imagery. Have I taught him this? Of course not. Books have.
He sees us reading all the time because we genuinely love it. Our house is full of books, they’re everywhere. I have bought a kindle (as a space saver!) but I’ll never stop buying books. Each one like a little treasure.
What saddens me though, and I mean deeply not merely in passing, is that something seems to have happened to our love of reading. I teach primary school and we’re constantly bombarded with new initiatives to try to persuade children to read – let them watch the film, I hear; give them stories full of action; let them read comics; read an email or even a text. I’m not suggesting for a second that everyone finds the physical act of reading easy (and hence perhaps not enjoyable) but a good story is magical. No one can dispute that.
At home, we act out stories – we go into the woods on a bear hunt – perhaps red riding hood will be behind a tree or we’ll find the Gruffalo trudging along with a mouse. We read Alan Ahlberg’s classic ‘The Ghost Train’ in honour of Halloween week and decided to go on a steam train to make up our own version. Everywhere you go is the setting for a story, every incident the start of a wild adventure. But so many of us would rather watch a film or play a computer game.
Recently, I was listening to John Suchet on classic fm. He was talking about a performance of one of Haydn’s symphonies and how the interpretation had involved almost slapstick comedy while the orchestra played. Before playing the symphony on air, he said he wasn’t able to fully describe the performance and that the listener would instead need to use their imagination as they listened. “Radio,” he said, “is better than television because the pictures are in your own imagination.” He didn’t say this exactly (my memory fails me!), but that was the gist. And isn’t it just the same with books?
So where has our love of reading gone? Isn’t it about time it came back?