The Importance of Being A Reader

My eight year old son reads anything he can get his hands on. Always has his nose in a book, a big stack of books by his bed. He talks about books endlessly and would spend hours in a bookshop if he could. He was mainly given books for Christmas, and he was as happy as a clam. He reminds me so much of me at his age. It’s strange to see yourself reflected in your children.

And it is scary when you see how you have changed. I still love books. They led me to where I am today. But it occured to me recently that I seem to read them less and less these days. For sure, I’ve been pretty busy doing grown up stuff. Small children, keeping house, starting the bookshop. But that’s no excuse. As my lovely other half always says, “you make time for the things that matter”. And I have not been making time to read, which makes me sad. I miss it.

So, if it matters so much, why can I not make more time to do it? How is it that I managed to read 42 books in 2012, and only 8 in 2017? Mainly I blame the rise of the smart phone and mobile data. In the past I used to take a book with me everywhere. If I was waiting for someone, or having lunch alone, or going somewhere on the train, I read books. Now I tend to think of these moments as time to get stuff done on my phone. Emails, social media, bookshop stuff, shopping, research. None of it has to wait until I’m home anymore. We can all be ‘productive’ all the time! Whoopie.

Yes, at times, it has been useful. But the backlash is that I almost feel guilty reading books nowadays, as though I should be spending the time ‘achieving something’. Is this really healthy? Can’t those emails wait a few hours? Does it really matter if we don’t organise our diaries right now? We can’t just switch off anymore. Even when I try to read I am easily distracted, as though I am forgetting something.

Why is it that reading a book is something my brain does not feel is ‘productive’? We learn from books. They teach us about history, geography, science, people, language. They teach us to focus. They make us feel connected and help us deal with our emotions. Sounds productive to me. Reading gives your brain a chance to switch off from daily life, to escape from all the jobs you have to do. And surely taking time out to relax ultimately helps us to be more productive, right?

So, I need to make time to read more. And not just for me. My eldest son has somehow become a reader, but these days, I don’t think my boys ever see me read. I grew up in the shadow of my Mum’s paperbacks. Lord knows how she ever found a spare moment to read with the four of us running riot, but I just remember her reading all the time. If I grew up with that influence and I am losing the habit of reading, what hope do my boys have? If all they see is me ‘doing jobs’ in every spare minute, how will they ever figure out the importance of being a reader?

So, whilst I don’t really ‘do’ New Year’s Resolutions, I am making 2019 the year to get back into reading. I’m spurring myself on with a couple of reading challenges – more about these to follow. But in the meantime, I’m trying a few simple rules in January. No looking at my phone whilst commuting or after 8pm. Whatever it is can wait.

Who’s with me?

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