Reading can get lost among the many distractions of modern life, but its importance is not diminished, writes Chris Jenkins, Head of English and Media Studies.
Once upon a time long ago, somebody somewhere introduced you to the amazing world of words. Most of us can recount early experiences of discovering the joy of reading: it may have been The Tiger Who Came to Tea or The Very Hungry Caterpillar or The Gruffalo or a less famous title that was your favourite childhood book, but it set you on a journey and hopefully it is a journey that will never end.
Reading feeds the brain, challenges readers, and confronts them with difficult questions and issues. A book can teach you about the world you live in and about yourself. I believe that you become more deeply aware of the great and enduring truths of human life through reading. Without reading our children and our grandchildren will be less literate and less numerate than we are. They will be less able to investigate the world, less able to understand, and less able to solve problems. They will be more easily lied to and misled, and less likely to improve the world in which they find themselves. They will be less employable.
Research has shown that reading makes you smarter, and it keeps you sharp as you age. Reading reduces stress, Improves analytical thinking, increases vocabulary, enriches memory, and develops writing skills, and those skills needed in prioritizing goals. Recent research has also shown that reading a gripping novel causes biological changes in the brain. These changes last for days as the mind is transported into the world of the protagonist. Reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.
Reading is fun; it can have charitable outcomes. Each year we run a READATHON which is well supported by Year 7 pupils in the school, and generally raises £600-£700 for good causes.
Reading is rewarding. Immersing yourself in a book means that you seem to live the lives of the characters, so that if you read regularly, it is like living many different lives, and experiencing many different viewpoints. The cost of not reading is to live a blinkered life.
Reading gives the gift of freedom; one can see this from the recent reaction from several eminent organisations, writers and academics that campaigned against a Ministry of Justice proposal to ban the sending of books to prisoners. Philip Pullman, writer of His Dark Materials, described the rule as “one of the most disgusting, mean, vindictive acts…” Cambridge Classics professor Mary Beard, tweeted: “Books educate and rehabilitate”. Clearly, reading sets you free.
There is a certain thrill in becoming entranced by a book, put under a spell where you simply cannot put down a book or are waiting for the next instalment in the series to arrive. It is important to read to succeed, or to improve vocabulary, but the most important thing is to avoid seeing reading as a duty. Reading is fun and life-enhancing because it opens up new worlds and new ideas; it should not be perceived as a chore, but as a most precious gift.