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Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Fifty Books A Year, Mr Gove?

This week our darling Education Secretary, Michael Gove, was reported to have suggested that children just hitting secondary school age should read fifty books a year, and not just the one or two novels that make it onto the curriculum. Unsuprisingly, people were quick to jump on the comments. How are poorer children supposed to obtain these books when their local libraries are closing by the dozen? Children's Laureate, Anthony Browne, also pointed out that children should be reading for enjoyment, not to reach some arbitrary target. Personally, I thought this Coalition was all about removing unnecessary targets from life but I may have been wrong.

Anyway, the statement got me thinking about reading in our society. Was I the exception to the rule fifteen years ago or were attitudes just different back then? Some of my most idyllic memories involve me perched precariously on a wall above twelve foot sheer drop onto concrete reading until I literally couldn't focus any more. Those were the books of childhood; the Enid Blyton stories and Roald Dahl's adventures. I wasn't tied to conventional authors either. For a painfully short space of time Wakefield had a discount book shop that half-specialised in stocking unheard-of children's novels. I practically ate those. I wasn't adverse to reading books half a dozen times either. I was told off in class for reading ahead in the books we were reading as a group.

But now I come to think of it, people at my school didn't seem as interested in books as I was. Could that be because I came from a relatively deprived area? Maybe. I'm willing to accept that some working class families just don't care enough about reading to pass it on to the next generation. My elder sister freely admits she barely reads now and I'm not sure she ever really did. My brother was a little more interested in books then, but I don't know if he still reads now.

Is that the problem then? Children grow up in households where their parents don't read so they don't see the significance? We live in a society where laziness prevails. Why bother reading a good book when it's coming to ITV1 as a drama in a few months? Or why bother watching any literary translations at all? There's enough on with Coronation Street, Holby City and CSI. Not that I mean to insult anybody who watches those. I'm an avid Corrie fan these days and it makes up an important part of my relaxation for the week. But, then again, so does reading. The last thing I do every day is read for anything between twenty minutes and an hour. It just depends how gripping the book is.

Do I get through fifty books in a year as an adult? Quite possibly, though at the moment my PhD reading figures will be skewing the data (I'm unsure in which direction). Do I love reading? Yes. Am I disappointed that my six-year-old niece seems indifferent to ever picking up a book and avoids her reading homework whenever she can? Yes, of course I am.

But I honestly don't think that Michael Gove proclaiming something will automatically make it so. If he proclaims it won't that just reinforce the idea that books are the privilege of the upper-classes? If I was a family being hit hard by community closures thanks to our lovely Coalition, the last thing I'd do is listen to a condescending, pompous twit like Michael Gove.

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