So I had been reading Richard Flanagan’s Booker winner, ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’, on the train, on the way home from school, in the middle of December, when I rediscovered my love of reading. Opening the book as I sat down, I was at my destination before I’d even realised it; it dawned on me that that hadn’t happened in a long time. I still bought books, loads of them; I still talked about reading, blogging about it regularly; however, my bookshelves were becoming surprisingly filled with unread books. My kindle filled. What had happened to me?
Sitting by my desk right now, I look around and see my books all over the place. Shelves aplenty, forming the wallpaper of my past; each one with a tale to tell about my life in more ways than one. But how often do books become merely part of our furniture; books as aesthetic pleasures; books as merely things? Perhaps while promoting a love of reading for all these years I, personally, had forgotten exactly what it felt like. Perhaps being in love with books is not the same as being in love with reading. Perhaps my pursuit of books as ‘things’ got in the way of my reading them properly.
So, if I’m being honest, I had stopped reading half as much as I used to. Too submerged in work; too busy; too many distractions. My book piles continued to grow not merely because I was buying a lot; I simply wasn’t getting through as many. Richard Flanagan’s book is superb. But the most important thing it gave to me was that reminder of the value of reading and the deep concentration required to do it properly. That is what the children I teach need to discover, not learn. I’m not sure you can learn it. However, we can talk about it and model a reader’s life.
Reflecting on my zeal for pupils to read regularly, I recall the times when I over-enthusiastically ran through the A-Z in the library, pulling out books I had read, throwing them in the direction of pupils who should read them; my childish glee, hopefully, enthusing them to do so. My book speed-dating lessons are always a colourful and fun way to spread the word on great books. However, looking back, they may just have made me look clever; ego-based tactics to get books into their hands. Perhaps what I should be sharing is the experience of reading; the reality of sitting silently, getting so lost in a book that time flies past and the world around you disappears. Perhaps that is what they need more.
Since Christmas, I haven’t bought a book which is unheard of for me. I’ve piled up all of the unread books on my shelves and have vowed to get through them all. I’m doing okay so far. So now when I talk about reading to my pupils I’m beginning to talk more about where I am when I’m reading: on the bus, in the dentist’s waiting room, everywhere. I talk about the pleasures I get from a particular character or plot twist. It seems I’m falling in love with reading again. Books will always be around us; reading them is far more important though.