My latest book (a novella) was published this weekend, which – as you might imagine – was rather exciting. I’ve written before about being a geek and how it’s something to be proud of, but there’s also a love of books – a passion for the written word – that I know a lot of people don’t have.
I’m a reader. I adore books; my mum took me to the library regularly as a child, and I attended story time sessions all the time. My imagination – already a fairly active place – was enlivened by words; I had that opportunity at the age when I was most susceptible to it, as a child. Would everyone have reacted the same way as me if they had books in the home from a young age? No, of course not, as we’re all individuals but given the opportunity, how many more people’s imaginations would have been opened wide if they had books in their life?
World Book Night chief executive Julia Kingsford recently said that around a third of homes don’t have any books in them – and that number is, depressingly, growing. I grew up around books; both of my parents have always been avid readers. My dad has always loved reading non-fiction, history and politics in particular. My mum, perhaps slightly worryingly, has always been a particular fan of crime fiction. Thinking about it now, I’m convinced she was researching ways to discover the perfect murder; I was a particularly difficult teenager.
We are all shaped by words; we express ourselves based on the words and language we possess. Even if we don’t always use all of our language on a regular basis – I can’t often find a use for the word “mactation” for example, but it exists just for the occasion when I need a word to describe the killing or slaughter of a sacrificial victim – it’s there, lurking just out of reach in the far recesses of our brain.
There are a number of different reasons why people don’t read; at least partly it’s a lack of choice. A lot of titles doesn’t always equate to a lot of choice. Look at a “new titles” table at a bookshop or supermarket, and you’ll probably see the same select books with similar front covers and the odd celebrity endorsement or two. There needs to be a wider appeal, not just focused on a central demographic.
There is also a class divide; the distinction between ‘literary’ and ‘commercial’ is a damaging one, because it implies anything popular is unworthy, and that people don’t want intelligence. People feel like that they have to whisper that they like a John Grisham or China Mieville, that it’s their “guilty pleasure.” Nonsense. Why feel guilty about reading what you enjoy?
Ultimately, it’s up to writers to craft stories that people want to read; if a story captures someone’s imagination, then we will capture so many more people. “As the author Matt Haig says, “But if we stay navel-gazing and write books that we hope will impress a select band of peers, then literature will become a ghetto with even higher walls. Let’s instead be truly proud of books, and this tragi-comic species of ours, and let stories echo our shared humanity.”