Reading should be fun, the moment it stops being fun you lose the reader they see it as a chore, a task they most complete.
When I was at school reading books were set, you started at a level 1 I think and you made your way through. Different levels were different colours so your reading ability was clear to all your friends depending on whether you were reading a yellow book, or a pink book. Looking back this probably wasn’t the best way to instil a love of reading, nor encourages those less able to read. There probably isn’t a clearer way to put someone off reading then to put a big sign around their neck “this person is reading a yellow book which means they’ve a low reading ability”.
For those of us who were competent readers it brought out our competitiveness and probably not in a good way. I can remember always wanting to know where Nicola Chatterley and Vicky Pendlebury were up to because I wanted to be further on than them.
But the bigger issue here is that you weren’t able to progress with your reading until you’d completed the book. And here began a hang up I carried with me for many years. Reading a book because I have to complete it and not because I’m enjoying it.
I would like to say that my reluctance to put down a book I wasn’t enjoying stemmed from something greater. A desire to give the author a chance, I mean come on they’ve put a lot of hours into this book. A sense of duty to give life to the characters, if I’m not reading about them then they’re not there. Meeting the expectations of others “What do you mean you’ve not read…?” But the more I think about it the more I realise I read books I didn’t enjoy for so long because that is how I’d been taught to read. Reading wasn’t about the story; it wasn’t about escaping into another world, going on an adventure. It was about getting through the books, moving up the levels and beating Nicola and Vicky.
It may have taken me many years to get past this, but post A-levels I had my epiphany. No longer did I have set texts that I had to read. I could leave reading out loud in Mr Brazil’s GCSE class, Jane Austen could remain the love of my A-level teacher Mrs Lavelle’s life and I could choose books that I wanted to read, because they made me happy and for no other reason.
Examples of books I’ve started and thought nah not for me:
- Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
- Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
- Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
- Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
- The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
I’m sure if I thought long and hard the list above would be much longer. I’m sure some of you are shocked by the books on the list, I know people who LOVED The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and really struggle to process the fact that I didn’t get past the first few pages, that it didn’t grip me, move me. But then I recently read and LOVED The Luminaries by Eleanor Cotton, I couldn’t put it down, couldn’t wait to read the next page and really hope they make a film or even a TV series because I think it would work. But my friend Hilary hated it, found it hard work, cumbersome not something she would recommend.
But then there is the beauty of books, different adventures, not necessarily meant to be taken by everyone.
So I’m going to carry on judging books (some of them by the cover but don’t tell anyone) and putting them down if I don’t enjoy them. Some I will revisit. There is definitely a time and a place for some books but others are going straight to the charity shop.