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Why do I read

This is not about to be a blog extolling the virtues of reading; I assume that if you are visiting our website you have already found your life enriched by the myriad of books you have read.  Nor am I going to debate the pros and cons of actually holding a book as opposed to the promised glories of possessing a Kindle or such like (I do not own one; I prefer the physical pleasure of turning the pages and that wonderful smell that comes as part and parcel of the sensory experience that is second hand books).  Rather I am going to ponder that question in the literal sense: during an average day or week when do I have occasion to read?  This has come about as a result of the joyous task of completing my children’s reading records.  Every day I listen to my children read and diligently note what, how much and the quality of their reading in a little record book that their teachers then sign.  (As an aside I was amused to note that purely by unfortunate assumption, now corrected, my children were under the impression that they should ONLY read for the purposes of this record!)

So, what have I read so far this week?  Emails – tick, text messages – tick, instructions for how to use a clip on yukele tuner – tick, a couple of County Council papers – tick, Guardian weekend colour supplement – tick and now onto the books …

Many things in my merry household can fall to the wayside (dusting, ironing, tidying to mention the holy trinity), one thing, however, is sacrosanct: reading to my children at bedtime.  Although both my children are now, pretty much, fluent readers, a bedtime story is still welcomed.  This enables them to enjoy books that they might feel is a bit beyond them to access at this stage and also for us to discuss any interesting topics that may have presented themselves (if anyone thinks ‘responding to literature’ reading that last sentence – consider yourself glowered at: our bedtime stories are a hedonistic enjoyment of a good yarn, nothing more and nothing less).

Also, if I am being totally honest, it is rather lovely to re – visit some children’s classics as well as exploring ‘new to me writers’ (the change in level of language, both in terms of syntax and vocabulary to me is very marked but that is for another blog!) 

I have just finished reading ‘Artemis Fowl’ by Eoin Colfer to my ten-year-old.  I was surprised that I enjoyed it so much because as a general rule of thumb I do not choose fantasy novels to read.  This, however, suspended my disbelief sufficiently for me to forget my rule of thumb.  The plot was fast paced, the characters subtly well developed and suspense masterfully written.  My assumptions of my own reading preferences have been challenged, something that might not have happened if not for this book.  My rule of thumb is now being re – configured as I type!

In contrast my 8 year old’s current book of choice is ‘Karlson on the Roof’ by Astrid Lindgren.  It feels as though it was not originally written in English (not a criticism but I do wonder if nuances get lost in translation), the plot trots on quickly enough and the characters are relatively engaging.  It is undeniable, however, that I am not hugely enjoying this story.  I am not sure if this is because I find Karlson a rather obnoxious character who has an almost abusive relationship with Smidge (Smidge is conned out of his pocket money at one point but he still adores Karlson).  I cannot work out if this a salutary lesson in vulnerability (Smidge is accepting of giving his pocket money away) or rather an enactment of the fallibility of humans and that it is rather touching that Smidge adores Karlson despite some very obvious character flaws.  Is my disdain of the book because I am aware that my 8 year old is still developing his moral compass, his sense of integrity and so just as I might censor the TV we watch or the websites we visit, I am alert to reading material that may encourage values I do not wish my child to have?  Is it indeed possible for reading ever to simply be ‘the enjoyment of a good yarn: nothing more and nothing less’?

I am currently reading ‘We are all Made of Glue’ by Marina Lewycka, a very much appreciated Christmas present.  To say I am ‘enjoying’ this book does not quite capture my pleasure.  Aside from an artfully woven plot with characters that have a depth to the extent I feel as though I recognise them as people I know, it does what, in my opinion, every good novel should do: elicit internal discussions about various subject matters.  One such subject is that of fundamentalism: a buzz word of modern society, engendering alarm and fear.  This fundamentalism is looked at through the eyes of a mother watching and trying to engage with her son about his fixation with Christianity, the bible and extreme websites foretelling of impending doom to the world and the second coming.   Maybe as a parent I have read this with heightened emotion, maybe, simply, because I am a person living in a world which seems in a muddle (I suspect it always has been if the history books are to be believed – thank you Abba with ‘history repeating itself’- but it does all feel terribly urgent currently).  There is an alarming example of how local authorities could work legitimately within the established rules whilst leaving a lot to be desired on a moral level, all within the context of an ageing lady who wishes to maintain her independence living in her large and very much in need of repair house.  Brief little summations of juts two of the plot elements in this book.

My reading this week has got me thinking.    Is it impossible for me to simply read something because it is ‘a good yarn: nothing more and nothing less’? 

I am going to keep informal tabs on the reasons I read; sometimes I find time moves so quickly that by the time I have finished my ‘must’ reads I have little time for my ‘want’ to reads.  I am making time this year: a new year’s resolution if you will. My life is greatly enriched by books in which I can ponder life’s questions in the safety of fiction.

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