Like much of the rest of the UK population, in the summer of 2020, I decided to watch the BBC 3’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. I found a form of escape from the mundane reality of lockdown in this classic coming-of-age-series and the complicated relationship between Marianna and Connel. Swiftly after finishing the show, I bought the book and was hooked from the first page to the last. With news of an upcoming adaptation of Rooney’s Conversations with Friends, I insisted upon reading the book before I watched the series and I can confidently say (without trying to give too much away) that the BBC have a lot to live up to! Rooney and lockdown proved the perfect duo to reintroduce me to the joys of reading for pleasure rather than for solely my studies, even if it did take a binge-worthy series to push me towards it!
There is no doubt that finding the time to read, especially as a student, can prove tricky. But is being busy or bored of academic reading a truly valid excuse? We seem perfectly okay with half an hour or more of scrolling through social media posts. We watch hours of videos on a small screen each week, straining eyes already exhausted by online lectures and academic articles. It seems that our natural reflex when we get a minute to ourselves is to reach for a phone or a tablet rather than open a book. But if our excuses as students in today’s technology-driven society seem poor, then what can be said for the generation below us? Our younger siblings, cousins and even future children are surrounded by the constant illuminations of back-lit screens at the expense of our beloved books.
In 2020, The Guardian published an article which stated that today’s children read less than ‘any previous generation,’ with just 26% of under-18s reading each day. In addition to the number of children who read daily being startlingly low, only 53% of children surveyed claimed to enjoy reading. Furthermore, the pleasure gained from reading seems to be dwindling with age, as 5-8-year-olds proved twice as likely to read for fun than 14-16-year-olds. It appears that children now considered reading a chore, something to be badgered to do by parents and teachers, similar to putting clothes away or having to tidy one’s room. A similar survey, conducted by The Bookseller last year, found that around a quarter of children would go as far as to claim they ‘never’ read for pleasure.
The widespread benefits of reading cannot be stressed enough, especially when it comes to young children. The United Nations, which emphasises literacy as a fundamental human right, is concerned with the effects of the lack of literacy skills, which would hold a person back at every stage of their life. Clearly, reading goes under-appreciated by many of us who have been fortunate enough to have the resources on hand to do so. Beyond reading being a thoroughly enjoyable pastime, it greatly contributes to our development by expanding our vocabulary, improving concentration, advancing cognitive and emotional development, and providing a highly effective stress relief. It might be time to start viewing reading as something that will only benefit us, in the same way as drinking enough water or meditating.
Admittedly, explaining these benefits and the science behind the importance of reading to children might not be the best approach for encouraging them to pick up a book. However, it is clear that if the next generation doesn’t learn to appreciate the wonders of literature, it will lose out. Alternative forms of entertainment provided by tablets, television, computers, phones and Tik-Tok challenges can be too tempting to resist – even for us young adults! Nonetheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel; the annual ‘What Kids are Reading’ report last year found that lockdown provided children with the chance to challenge themselves with reading longer or more difficult books, with many stating that it made them feel better when isolated from friends. Be that as it may, it should not take a pandemic or a popular series on television to convince us to start reading again. We need to start loving literature for literature’s sake, and sharing this passion with the generations to come.