The Magical Power of Reading
At the age of five or six, I opened my own copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I'd met Biff and Chip, Percy the Park Keeper, and Elmo and Spot before that. I would go on to meet and love Torak, Maximum Ride, and Sephy and Callum, amongst others... Books were like home to me because I had been an incredibly lucky child. I grew up being subjected to all sorts of books, stories, characters, films and musical soundtracks. I had been constantly encouraged, from as long as I can remember, to pick up anything that I could and to turn the page. To read the blurb. There were many things I couldn't get my parents to buy, walking around the supermarket aisles… but if I got my hands on a magazine or a book that I wanted – and could give a good reason why I wanted to read it – it was mine.
I was so fortunate to have been urged, persuaded, forced even, to think, to consider, to question and investigate.
But turning book pages isn't always as enjoyable for everyone as it was for me. Often, my students tell me that they had been good readers. Children are, after all, encouraged to read and feel rewarded by reading on a daily or weekly basis at primary school. As is right. But then, somewhere into their secondary years, they commonly lose (or tuck away) that childish interest in reading that had been nurtured into them… Others unfortunately struggle to connect with reading – or writing – of any kind during their early years and never begin to enjoy it at all. This is not about blame, though. Reading can be hard, challenging, boring or even nerve-wracking for so many people. So, while there are many short-term reasons why GCSE students don't feel or see the need to read in school, it has too many long-term benefits to go unpractised at home.
Reading isn't just about passing – or excelling in – your literature and language exams. It can shape you. And I'm not talking about routes into English-based careers, though they are all (unsurprisingly) appealing to me!
I'm talking about the comfort that holding a physical book in your hands can produce. I’m talking about the satisfaction and accomplishment that humans feel after completing a book, multiple books, or even a whole reading list. I'm talking about the spoken self-confidence and self-esteem that developing the ability to express thoughts aloud – of owning your words – can bring. No one wants to fumble around in the dark for a half-accurate substitutes or slang alternatives for what they truly mean. Those kinds of things don't work in a professional environment but they also inhibit people on a personal level, too.
But you might just be reading this today to make a start with reading more. You might also just want to tackle your English GCSEs. So here are some very simple steps that you can take to improve your reading habits:
1. Select ANY genre or topic that you actually enjoy!
Reading doesn’t need to be about completing War and Peace. Start small on a topic that grabs your attention. Build up your engagement with the written word from there.
2. Read once every day.
It could be one page a day, 5 minutes a day, or even a chapter a day. But no two books are the same length and no two readers will experience that same book in the same way. That's fine. Take the pages at your own pace. It's consistency that matters.
3. Read aloud (vocalise your reading experience).
Read aloud or use audiobooks. Talking about what you’ve read with someone can be so effective: it helps recall, attention span, and allows you to reflect on what you think (or how you actually feel) about what you've read.
4. Work out how you want to read…
Begin to carry something to read with you wherever you go. Or, only read in one designated reading space at home. That way, depending on what kind of individual you are, you will always have the opportunity to read if you want or you will be actively choosing to read in a designated place every single day. For students who don’t want to read at home…
Immerse yourself in the emotion of a story (brought to life by another person’s voice and intonation). Use audiobooks alongside the physical copy to aid your spelling or to get through those chunky literature texts. To get the best out of an audiobook, always read alongside the sound on your first read and don’t forget that staging is really important for plays.
6. No good? Switch it up.
Remember, if a leisure book is not holding your attention, you can either pass it on to someone else or place it on a ‘perhaps…later’ pile. Whichever you like. But find something NEW. If you don’t enjoy the process of reading with one book, that does not mean that you hate books. It means you haven’t found your book yet.
For me, reading looks like an audiobook of a GCSE or A level text for private students (last week was The Handmaid’s Tale and The Lord of the Flies and this week was the Great Gatsby and Animal Farm). My reading process also looks like academic articles or chapters in a coffee shop or even while walking on the treadmill! But, sometimes, it can look like a historical fiction curled up in the living room, which does feel very much like opening up The Philosopher's Stone, aged five or six, again… Sincerely, Canto Cruncher