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HM Guest Blog: Reading for pleasure - is it an endangered pastime?

Reading is something we can't avoid. Even the most book-averse people engage with the language in many forms from cereal packets to adverts, street signs to homework - words are all around us. All but the most disadvantaged learn to read at a young age. It’s a vital skill and from the point that you learn, you quickly find that you can’t help reading – letters form themselves into intelligible words in your mind automatically – but do you want to? There is a big distinction between reading automatically or because we have to and reading because we choose to, for pleasure. There is evidence that the latter, especially among my generation, is a dying art. Fewer and fewer teenagers are picking up a good book and reading.  I can sympathise. The ever-increasing availability of various social media platforms and streaming websites provide ample diversion and opportunities to switch-off. (I would know, being on Season 7 of a steady binge of the US sitcom “Friends”).

However, technology and a good book need not be mutually exclusive. Many believe a love for reading is something established early in life; if you get to your Upper Sixth Year and you have no urge to pick up a book, then that's it. I would not be so quick to write off my generation (and the ones that follow); finding a new interest/hobby can happen at any stage in life and discovering something new that you enjoy (or rediscovering something you used to enjoy) through your own choice, rather than because someone told you you should, can be very powerful. Since writing has been around a lot longer than TV, the range of books available - in hard copy or digital format, to buy or borrow, is extraordinary. Everyone can find something to interest them if they are motivated to try. No one is demanding that anyone digest the entire works of Dickens over the Easter break (though kudos to you if you want to); you might want to dip into a biography of an admired sports hero or grapple with a hard-hitting dystopian novel, like those movies you really enjoy. The well-equipped library we have here at Whitgift makes it easy to find both in a matter of minutes.

Playing pick and mix at the library is only fun for some though; libraries can sometimes seem pretty daunting. However, there are numerous avenues to reading outside the traditional ones. Amazon purchases, for example, require just a few clicks. But even with the comfortable safety of our best friend the internet, choice can be paralysing- do you really want to fork out even £5 on something that in a few days may just be another surface for your coke can? The absence of suitable stepping- stones is a big barrier to many students. As we get older and busier even avid younger readers can fall out of love with books.

But it is at these busier, more stressful times that reading can come to the rescue – I know that I have found it an escape, a way to wind down at the end of the day, a welcome change of pace and distraction from the pressure of past papers and revision. So, I would like to encourage you (or challenge you – whichever you prefer) – to make this the week that you reach for a book rather than a screen. Take time to find something that really appeals: Are you a big rugby fan? - try Jonny Wilkinson's Autobiography (Jonny - £1.99 Kindle Edition on Amazon); Like history and dragons? - try Naomi Novik's Temeraire series (a personal favourite); Spies? - try Terry Hayes' I Am Pilgrim; Psychology, try The Invisible Gorilla. Once you get started, the benefits of reading are quickly realised: It is scientifically proven that reading is the easiest way to improve spelling and increase your vocabulary (anyone interested in sounding more intelligent?). Books can provide the answers to those questions you have always wondered about, make you feel connected to other people and the world, activate your imagination and spark your curiosity. Sitting anywhere with a book nowadays also makes you feel pretty smart - which is always a bonus! And, where binging Netflix may seem shamefully unproductive, procrastinating with a good book somehow seems better. At the end of the day it can't hurt: do yourself a favour, pick up a book.