Monday 19 January 2015

Books should be fun

Are you struggling to get through a book at the moment? Maybe it’s a classic or a recent prize winner that you feel you ought to read. It could be a novel someone bought you as a present or lent you because they loved it.

My advice: if you’re not enjoying it, ditch it. Why torture yourself? Imagine if you got run over by a bus tomorrow and died reading a book you hated.

You wouldn’t sit through a TV programme you weren’t enjoying. You’d switch channels and watch something else. So why treat books differently? If anything, we should be even more selective about what novels we read, because each one is a far greater investment of our time than any film or TV show. Okay, you could argue that a long-running TV series is more of a time hog than a book. But if you grew bored of it, you’d give up, right? I can’t think of many people who’d watch more than a couple of episodes of a show they weren’t enjoying.

Reading should be a pleasure – not a chore. I think it’s important we get this message across from an early age. I understand why primary schools set daily reading as homework. It makes sense for children’s development, especially during the early years when they’re still learning to read. And yet in doing so, it associates reading with work in children’s minds. So watching a movie or playing a computer game is always going to seem more appealing.

I don’t think there’s an easy solution here, but letting children choose what they read rather than prescribing particular books is probably a good start. I’ve seen adults turn their noses up at the comic book style of popular titles like the Tom Gates and Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. But kids love them, so what’s the problem? They help make reading fun and that’s got to be a good thing.

There’s far too much snobbery when it comes to books. Look at the divide between so-called commercial and literary fiction. I was at a writers’ conference recently when a well-known literary author asked for members of the audience who wrote genre fiction to raise their hands. Once they had, the curmudgeon declared: ‘I have nothing to say to you.’

The message, a familiar one among book snobs, was that popular fiction – the page-turners that sell copies and readers actually enjoy – has no literary merit.  This is nonsense, as far as I’m concerned. Who says you can’t tell a story that’s as compelling and accessible as it is meaningful? Consider Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. They both do exactly this and, accordingly, have achieved commercial and literary success.

But at the same time, what’s wrong with reading any plot-driven thriller, romance or whatever you fancy? If that’s what you enjoy, go for it. Ignore the self-appointed book police. They’re the ones who’d rather you struggled with some tedious tome, losing the will to live in the process.

Books should be fun. If you’re battling one at the moment, my advice is to put it down and try another. There are plenty more out there. I spoke to a keen reader the other day who agreed. ‘I’m 65,’ she told me. ‘So I’ve decided that if a book hasn’t grabbed me by page 65, I’ll give up on it. Life’s too short.’

That seems like a good system to me.

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