Ah, the need to read. There’s nothing quite like that blissful solitude snatched in the pages of a good book.
These days I have the attention span of a gnat. Time was when I thought nothing of reading Tolkien’s “The Lord of The Rings” from cover to cover or one of the great Bronte novels. I’d be lost in the wilds of the Yorkshire moors in “Wuthering Heights” as my train drew into the station on wet Monday mornings or imagining being shouted at by Anthony Robbins after another energetic chapter of the self-help classic “Awaken The Giant Within“.
Reading was an escape, almost a guilty pleasure. The need to read would wash over me in coffee shops, on trains and late at night snuggled under the duvet. And there is still nothing so thrilling as being let loose in a proper bookshop. Ah, the sheer weight of paperbacks, the pristine paper and the unbent covers, just the smell of the paper. Nowadays I wonder whether the sales from the coffee concessions outweigh sales of actual books in the few remaining bookshops left.
In Oxford recently, we visited Blackwells Bookshop. It was VAST. Wall upon wall of tomes with (obviously) an academic bias and it hit me suddenly that a good bookshop is truly a repository of knowledge.
Now it might have been the cheeky glass of Rioja at lunchtime, but I found myself whispering to hubby, “just look at all this knowledge, look at how much there is to teach Caitlin and Ieuan”. Not just the basics of reading and writing, but the World’s languages, science, philosophy, astronomy, psychology, the various areas of mathematics, religious studies and on and on and on…..
It made me wonder how much of our days today are spent in front of screens. Even in school at aged 4 and 3, my children are playing with computers and watching whiteboards. At home, they borrow the iPad and in restaurants, we bribe them with “Talking Tom” on hubby’s phone. At some level, I know this is not actually a good thing.
The logical consequence of everything being read on a screen or now via an ‘app’ is surely that it’s changing the language and the volume of information we can absorb in one sitting. I’ve written before about, to me, the sad dumbing down of much of the copy in magazines and newspapers. Each year there are lists of new words which make the official dictionaries but these words always seem to be ‘slang’ to me, increasingly unimaginative and increasingly inelegant.
Our inability to absorb large chunks of information is affecting, I suspect, both how our children are taught, and how examinations are structured and marked. This inability affects our TV programmes – notice how in a typical Channel 4 or 5 programme, each new section of the programme post-ad-break starts with a 5-minute recap of stuff you viewed literally minutes before. Lazy programming for lazy viewers?
I still remember how the TV programme Horizon used to be, and QED and programmes about astronomy with Michael Burke and Carl Sagan. They made you think so hard it gave you a headache. Now today’s science programmes seem to be the same level as John Craven’s Newsround used to be!
There have been rumblings in the papers that the A level and particularly the A* will be replaced by some sort of baccalaureate examination – a tacit admission (at last!) that exams have been dumbed down but witness the furore this year and the demands for remarking of English papers where more stringent marking criteria had been applied.
Our children need to learn that failure is the spur to even greater learning and greater knowledge – and that knowledge needs to be administered and stored in chunks, not soundbites.
Sometimes I find the ‘noise’ from the TV, PC, iPad and Phone, promotional advert screens and billboards just too much. I have a Kindle and I think it’s a fantastic piece of kit but there will never be anything quite like a brand new book to me.
And you know what, if our kids are looking to reality TV icons like Tulisa or Chantelle as role models, we could do worse than stand them in Blackwells Bookshop and tell them “you want to see true wealth? well, you’re looking at it.” Oh yes, we should ALL feel the need to read.