In the UK, it has been claimed that one in five adults struggle to read and write – that’s 8 million adults who are deemed functionally illiterate with an apparent reading score below level 2 (a report by the Sutton Trust). Worse still, that’s 8 million adults who can’t read or enjoy my blog! Something must be done!
As a child I was a voracious reader, greedily absorbing anything and everything I could get my hands on. My mum regularly read to me when I was little – although she herself is the first to admit that she is not naturally a keen reader.
Computers and mobile phones were not the norm then, and although I spent quite a bit of time on my Nintendo (!), reading was my main hobby.
All my school classmates – girls AND boys – enjoyed reading. It wasn’t until I started working in the film industry that I came across people who happily BOASTED that they had NEVER read a book in their life. Well I was SHOCKED. How can someone in this day and age, go through their school years and into adulthood, without ever having read ONE SINGLE BOOK?!
Most of these ‘bibliophobic’ people used the excuses that they found books ‘boring’, that reading was for ‘geeks’ or that they just couldn’t concentrate on one thing for too long. While these excuses perhaps masked deeper problems and learning difficulties, no-one actually admitted that they simply struggled to read or hadn’t had the privilege of being taught properly.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that when we are good at something, we tend to enjoy it. I always struggled with maths at school (I blame a ‘mental block’ brought on by my fear of a very early school teacher) and while in the end, I still managed to do fairly well in exams (which suggested that I wasn’t really THAT bad at numbers), the declaration I often made that I HATED maths most definitely was born out of my early mathematical struggles. As I became less fearful of Pythagoras’ theory, I found that secretly, and only on rare occasions, I quite enjoyed solving number puzzles.
Having never read a book in your life is certainly not something to be proud of, neither is it something to be embarrassed or ashamed about if you have genuinely struggled with literacy your whole life.
Dyslexia seems to be a common problem amongst people who have difficulty accurately comprehending the written word and some sufferers have often been met with indifference and even ignorance by the education authorities. This is still an ongoing problem today although thankfully educational support has grown, although awareness still needs to be raised. In fact, a number of successful writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby), Agatha Christie (Poirot) and George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion) suffered from dyslexia.
Of course there are those who don’t seem to suffer from any learning difficulties at all, have received a good education and can read and write to a reasonably acceptable adult standard, yet do not see themselves as academically intelligent and therefore dismiss books that they fear they will not understand. This is a real shame as there are so many books out there for all levels – you don’t have to read the likes of War and Peace to be considered a bibliophile.
Some of my relatives haven’t read a single book in their lives and can’t understand why I would choose to curl up with a good novel, rather than watch reality TV. Besides from this being a totally ignorant and narrow-minded view, it is also highly dangerous – for our physical well being as well as our mental stability and ability to think for ourselves.
Keeping your brain active and staying mentally stimulated can slow the progress or possibly even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Reading improves your memory, focus and concentration and can provide you with stronger analytical skills (Agatha Christie should be able to help you!).
Stress levels can also be reduced through reading. If I watch TV before bed, I sometimes feel quite agitated – the noise of the TV and the bright visuals causes me stress – even if I am not aware of it, whereas quietly reading a good book (no matter how thrilling it is) helps me to relax. A well-written novel can transport you to other realms, while an engaging article will distract you and keep you in the present moment, letting tensions drain away and allowing you to relax.
Reading a wide range of books, newspapers, magazines etc helps to expand your vocabulary and adds to your general knowledge. It may also help to increase tolerance and understanding of others and create an ability to see ‘outside the box’. While my general views on life have of course been influenced by my up-bringing and what I have learnt at school and university, I have also developed my ideas and opinions through reading other ideas and opinions. Watching Dallas on a daily basis and playing Super Mario 24/7 does not give you a very realistic view of the world.
If you or anyone you know is struggling to read or write and needs support, help is at hand through various teaching facilities and other educational support:
Everyone should at least have the opportunity to find enjoyment in the written word.
And for those who prefer to be spoon-fed the visual story, that’s fine, but do not sneer at people who are imaginative enough to form their own cinematic adventure.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R.Martin (A Dance with Dragons)