Once a reader, always a reader...?
No reading journey is straightforward. Children and teenagers often experience a slump in reading for pleasure during their time in secondary school. Read on to find out how my reading journey shaped my love of literature and why joining a book club can help others to do the same.
One of my sister's favourite anecdotes about me growing up is an episode in the story of me learning to read. Of course when she learned to read she did everything right: she patiently sounded out words to work them out, and when she knew words by sight, she felt no need to show off about it. She was in fact such a good reader before she started school, that she read a fairy tale to her Reception class teacher during a home visit, and the teacher was so astounded that she thought my sister must have learned the story by heart! I, on the other hand, did not entirely follow her lead.
Sadly, I can't remember the title of the book I was reading when this anecdote came into existence. I do remember there was a boy and a girl in an illustration, and they were at the park, one of them on a slide. Despite the attention to detail I obviously paid to this image, I was less painstaking over my reading; if I couldn't recognise the word by sight, I stubbornly and confidently made it up, and if I could, I read at hyper speed. One of the lines happened to be, 'No, Sam, no!' And in my haste, this became 'nosamno!!!' and to this day, my sister will at random shout this line at me.
Despite our differences in learning to read, we both developed a love for reading. We were lucky in that our dad would read to us regularly before bed, and we giggled our way through the adventures of 'The Secret Seven' by Enid Blyton, squealing in delight at our dad's vocal characterisation, and cower in fear (so much so that we couldn't get beyond chapter two!) at the trolls in 'The Hobbit' by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Book fairs held in the 'small' hall at our primary school were the pinnacle of each academic year, and even now I hope to replicate the awe and wonder I felt looking at piles of glittering books by meandering through the aisles in Waterstones. And yet primary school, along with avid reading, gave way to secondary school.
As is not uncommon, by the time I'd reached year 8 I'd stopped reading for pleasure. No one else seemed to read - not openly anyway. I no longer had to use my reading record to log when I'd read to my parents at home. Perhaps most importantly, I just couldn't find anything I wanted to read. I vaguely remember that we spent some time in the school library, but from memory, I think we were mostly focusing on developing our reading skills using non-fiction texts - useful, of course, but not something that rekindled my love of literature.
Like many students in secondary schools, I read what I had to, when I had to. I half-heartedly borrowed a copy of 'The Wasp Factory' by Iain Banks from my GCSE English teacher and started, but never finished it.
It wasn't until my first year in college that I happened upon a text that kept my attention: 'The Da Vinci Code' by Dan Brown. My mum and dad bought it for me one Christmas, along with 'Angels and Demons' (also by Dan Brown), and I read voraciously from mid-morning Christmas day, until I'd finished both books the following evening. Once again, I was hooked. I couldn't wait for the next gripping thriller. This lucky find, combined with an excellent English teacher who introduced me to many snippets of great literature (one of which ended up as the basis for my dissertation a few years later), led me to study English Literature at university.
University was so different from anything I'd ever experienced. Suddenly, I was expected to read a minimum of four books per week, along with various articles and essays. In retrospect, I can see I didn't value being enveloped in literature as much as I should have, but in my defence, I'd gone cold turkey on reading for the best part of my teenage life, and it was hard to jump from dipping my toe back into the word-based sea, and diving straight in at the deep end. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it, especially the variety of texts I encountered. The main thing I learned about my own reading journey during these three years, was that it is so important to experiment. Finding the right book is a bit like finding the right pair of trousers - some trousers look good on the hanger, but when you try them on they just don't fit; some trousers look shocking on the mannequin, but you give them a punt and somehow they are the most comfortable pair you've ever tried on; some trousers will do - they're not the best and they're not the worst, but in the situation they are just the ticket.
As young children, we often find an author whose novels we love to read, and we work through their booklist one at a time. Before we know it, we've read their entire back catalogue, and they won't be releasing anything new for a while. So we look for something else, when really all we want is our favourite author to write a new book! Nothing else will do. And that stubbornness/dedication/fear of not absolutely loving anything as much as the last book can contribute to getting stuck in a reading rut that it's really, very hard to get out of!
So what could have altered my reading journey? I had great role models in my parents who between them read and still read a wide range of fiction and non-fiction; I was capable of reading and I enjoyed it when I found the right book; and as I found whilst at university, my enjoyment of literature increased hugely when I was able to discuss it with other people.
Perhaps it would have benefitted me to join a book club, where the novels chosen were varied and tempted me to try new things, and where there were interesting prompts about content, language, structure and context that could whet my appetite and deepen my understanding, knowledge and enjoyment of a text. And unsurprisingly, this is exactly why I've launched the Grouty's Guide book clubs, to coincide with those key times that children and young people tend to stop reading for pleasure!
Book Clubs are launching on Monday 1st October and the book titles will be announced soon.