I was rather intrigued by the title of this article because, as most school librarians would agree, there isn’t a wrong sort of book, every book has its reader – you just have to try and put the two together, easier said than done! I’m not bothered with what my students read as long as they actually do read – which means I’m happy them picking up newspapers, magazines, reading from websites, e-books, car manuals, even White Dwarf which could be written in another language for all the sense I can make of it!
Although there is actually a “wrong sort of book” …. it’s the one that is not right for the student at that time. So many of them just grab the nearest book when they are told to find something to read. Some will choose a book based on the cover (and let’s face it, that’s the first thing you make your decision on which is why they’re so important … publishers please note), a few will read the blurb. The problem is, if they select a book that is too easy for them they’ll be bored with it; if it’s too hard, they won’t understand it; and if it’s the sort of genre they don’t enjoy then they just won’t connect with the book at all. And if they do this time and time again, then eventually they’ll come to the decision that reading is boring. So yes … it is possible to have the wrong sort of book because the right sort will engage the reader, make them want to read it and then make them want to repeat the experience.
In an ideal world, all children would be readers. But even if they were, they wouldn’t pick “literary” titles every time. Adults don’t yet I’m always surprised at how people expect this sort of reading from teenagers, even though, when you look at adult patterns of reading, they dip and meander through a whole myriad of titles. Over the past couple of months, my reading has gone from the Carnegie and Greenaway shortlist http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/pressdesk/press.php?release=pres_2013_short_combined.html through a thriller by Linwood Barclay, The Humans by Matt Haig, delved into some non-fiction on the London Underground and Venice, and I’m now working my way through the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist http://www.booktrust.org.uk/news-blogs-and-press/news/198 ... oh and then there’s the newspapers I skim whilst I’m having coffee, the magazines I buy, and even the free ones from the high-street supermarkets get read. Not to mention my professional journals, various enewsletters and blogs … I did mention that I was rather obsessed with reading, didn’t I?
What I pick up depends on the mood I’m in, how much time I’ve got and how much I want to concentrate on what I’m reading. At times I like to struggle with ideas and concepts, words that stop me reading and set me off on a train of thought, sometimes I want to disappear inside my book and ignore the world, other times I just want to chill out and relax but still engage with those around me. This isn’t right or wrong, it’s just the way I connect with words. And surely we should allow teenagers and young adults the same concessions when they read?
Mr Gove would have us believe that he spent his youth immersed in worthy works but this cannot be true. Children don’t learn to read with Dickens, Hardy and Eliot. Is he expecting us to accept that he never read a Beano or Hotspur comic? If he didn’t, then no wonder he has such a warped sense of books, reading and libraries. He is also forgetting the fact that when he was a teenager, he didn’t have the choice of entertainment that is around today – 24 hour TV, films on demand, the internet, social networking, phones with free unlimited texts – you can’t ignore these and expect teenagers not to be involved with today’s technology, which means working with it to promote and encourage reading.
My advice would be … if you find a teenager immersed in a book, leave them. Go and read the same book then, when they’ve finished it, you can discuss it together!