‘As we face the cold and unsettled weather that characterises January, and continued uncertainty about containment of Omicron, why not snuggle down with a good book to beat the January blues?’
Did you love reading as a child but have fallen out of the habit? Or maybe you’ve been promising yourself to read more this year? Chris Guiton sheds some light on the real benefits of reading for pleasure.
Music lovers of my generation may remember the Classics for Pleasure (CFP) record label. Hugely popular (and part of the Music for Pleasure label), CFP issued budget-priced albums of classical music which introduced listeners to new musical worlds. But what about reading for pleasure? As we face the cold and unsettled weather that characterises January, and continued uncertainty about containment of Omicron, why not snuggle down with a good book to beat the January blues?
Windows into other worlds
Reading is one of those things that we often take for granted. We learn to read at school because literacy is a vital skill without which we struggle to participate in almost all social and cultural activities.
But this is a functional perspective that obscures the sheer joy to be derived from reading for pleasure. Not only is it tremendous fun. It transports you to new realms. It stimulates the imagination. And opens our eyes to the richness and diversity of the world around us.
Importantly, learning to read for pleasure when growing up stimulates empathy, improves relationships with others, and enhances our wellbeing then and in later life. The fabulous children’s writer Michael Rosen sums up the benefits beautifully in this blog post where he considers the role books play in helping us explore language, plots, ideas and symbolism.
But what is reading for pleasure exactly? In the words of the National Literacy Trust it, ‘refers to reading that we to do of our own free will anticipating the satisfaction that we will get from the act of reading.’
Unfortunately, many people rarely (or never) pick up a book and read it simply for pleasure. Perhaps their parents didn’t encourage them when they were young. Or they were poorly taught at school, with reading presented as an obligation or a chore in an exam-driven education system. Or it’s been displaced by television, video games and social media. Whatever the cause, this is a great shame.
To compound the problem, our digital world bombards us with information 24/7. It’s difficult to keep up. This means that our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. Many of us either don’t feel that we have the time to read or have developed the habit of clicking rapidly from webpage to webpage when we do. This can inhibit our ability to enjoy reading as a healthy activity in its own right.
How to embed reading in your life
But not all books have to be approached the same way. And demanding that we either read deeply or not at all is almost guaranteed to put people off. In reality, there are all sorts of different styles of reading.
You can skim read books to pick up the general gist of the story. Dip in and out of them, as you please, picking up nuggets along the way. Or immerse yourself in their world and read them closely from cover to cover. It depends on your mood and what you want to get out of the book. As Renaissance philosopher Sir Francis Bacon put it, ‘Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.’
The point is to read what pleases you. Whether it’s something off the latest best-seller list or a little-known curio. Remember: you’re now reading because you want to!
If you’re struggling to get started…
The foundations of reading for pleasure are laid in the early years. But it’s never too late to start. You may experience a few challenges along the way. But we make our paths by walking them. And nothing beats giving something new a try.
You could experiment with genres you’ve never tried before: thrillers, classics, science fiction and fantasy, poetry, graphic novels, feminist fiction, historical fiction. The list is endless.
Whatever you’re reading, make sure you’ve got a comfortable place to do it. Eliminate distractions. Switch off your mobile phone!
Set aside a daily slot in your routine. Maybe read for an hour when you get up. Or read something light before you go to sleep. Or at whatever time suits you…
Give short stories a go if full-length books appear too daunting.
Try having two or three books of different types on the go at the same time. To suit different moods. Give you a change of scenery. And create an interesting space where different styles coalesce in your subconscious and create something new.
Perhaps join or set up a book club. It doesn’t have to be too formal. But it’s a good excuse to get together with a few friends for a couple of hours and talk about what you’re reading. Both what you like and don’t like about a book!
In all of this, think of reading as a dialogue with a book that crosses boundaries of time, geography and culture. And open yourself up to whatever it might have to offer you. Because books make us who we are.
There are never enough books
But maybe you’re not convinced! In which case, can I recommend a lovely book by Nick Parker, On Reading: provocations, consolations and suggestions for reading more freely. You won’t regret it. It’s short. It’s full of wit, warmth and wisdom. It will help you re-evaluate how and why we read books.
As Nick says: ‘Think of books not just as objects but as a ceaseless nourishing flow of words through your life.’
Why not share your personal thoughts on what you’re reading in the comments below?
Chris is a writer based in Crowborough, East Sussex who loves working with words. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, listening to music and hiking, as well as having a chat with friends over a pint of Harvey’s Best Bitter. He can be contacted at www.wealdenwordsmith.co.uk or you can write a comment to him below!