Reading for pleasure?

Twice a year at this blog I reflect on books read. While drafting that soon to be published post, I started thinking about how children become avid readers and how significant adults in their lives assist construction of this identity. I suspect that peers play a large part in this process but the ground must be fertilised from the beginning.

I became an English teacher because I like reading.

Like is not even remotely a strong enough verb. In reality, reading has been with me more consistently than any person, house or other interest. Often, as a child, I read late into the night and woke early to continue the book that had captured my imagination.

Reading is both leaving home, and returning safely.

Now, my daily walk to the train station at 6am, with headphones, allows me to keep ‘reading’ my audiobook. The train trip and walk at the other end mean that most days I have two hours ‘in my book’ while in transit. I always have handy a combination of paper, audio and e-books.


creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by Monkey Mash Button

The formation of an identity that makes reading of central importance is something I often wonder about. One of my grandmothers, and an aunt, were always describing me as a ‘bookworm’ to others with an oxymoronic tone of both praise and condemnation. It is hard to know who had the most impact on my identity as a reader but certainly childhood friends, when I was 8 or 9, like Anthony and the occasional teacher were very influential. One English teacher, in Year 7, Mrs Hoddinott, threw me a copy of Catch 22 when I asked her what that was about after seeing about 100 of them on her desk. I have re-read that book many times since.

I do suspect Mum & Dad were the key.

As an English teacher, I know the importance of parents in the creation of ‘readers’. If neither parent reads it becomes a ‘do what I say, not what I do’ situation and as you know, kids are very good at spotting the subtext of life. The real message, when Mum and Dad do not read is that reading is not important for people like them. That it is for others.

This is doubly so with boys. If Dad, or significant male role models read, the chances of a young man picking up a book or e-book increases manifold. I vividly remember, pre attending school, walking around the house with Dad’s books, pretending to read them. I have often said that reading was his gift to me.

Mum always encouraged me to read and took me to the library each week. She understood the importance and set me on that path just as much as Dad.

Schools really need to encourage reading for pleasure. Our school has almost finished refurbishing the library, making it a more contemporary and salubrious space. Technology is valued but the walls of front-facing shelves display some highly alluring titles. Over the last three years borrowing fiction has increased significantly.

Teachers really have a part to play in encouraging reading that goes beyond formal instruction in the classroom. Teachers should share what they read with students. A book sitting on their desk or a few minutes discussing a passion for reading, especially male teachers who do not teach English, can really show students that books, ebooks and audiobooks are part of leading the good life daily in a civil society.

Regardless of one’s outlook or ideology, reading is central.

How are you influencing others to read for pleasure? How are you giving the gift of reading? How did your identity as ‘a reader’? form

Featured Image: creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Darcy Moore: http://flickr.com/photos/darcymoore/11814812603

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8 Comments

  1. Sue:

    I have been an avid reader all my life. I don’t remember learning to read, but I do remember getting into trouble for reading in the back of the car as we passed under street lights, or under my sheets with a torch. I also remember how thrilled I was the first time I was allowed to visit the new local library on my own.
    My father is a keen reader and I suppose this had some influence, but I remember a friend, when I was in about year 4, who loved reading and we could talk all recess and lunch about our books. As a teenager, I know I had an influence on a boy who wanted to impress me. He wasn’t usually a reader, but started reading a book and found he really enjoyed it for its own sake. Many years later he still reads for enjoyment!
    As a teacher, I give my young students time every day to read quietly to themselves or with a friend, just for enjoyment and I make it a treat. If we don’t have time, I apologise, so they know it’s important and I value it.
    I always feel sad for those who can’t lose themselves in a good book! One of my sayings is if I drop dead unexpectedly, someone else can finish the washing up, but only I can finish my book.

  2. carlaleeb:

    My mother shaped my identity as a reader . She went everywhere with a book in hand , literally never leaving the house without one . From shopping to working in the cattle yards , a book awaited opportunity . I have vivid memories of sitting in visitors laps to read my latest treasure or to be read to … and according to family legend , if it was a favourite , I protested greatly if anyone attempted to summarise 🙂 .
    Christmas and birthdays always involved the giving of a book , a tradition strong in both my own and my husbands family . My mother in law still puts a book in each stocking that she builds for her 7 grandchildren – 6-18 . In my circle of friends we have people of all ages and for many baby showers we have gifted a library , a collection of books we each choose to start the child’s reading life . On the giving of books – they are always signed and dated 🙂
    My husband is a PE teacher who travels to camp or sporting events with his book or eBook in hand . He is often asked by boys what he is reading in his down times or they comment. ” your heads never out of a book , what’s so interesting ” ? He often shares with me the conversations that this starts . In my English classroom I try to keep up with what the students are reading for pleasure and suggest in conversation a book they may not have read . When students let me know that they have read it , I realise the warmth that my English teacher must have felt when I did the same . Incidentally , your reference to Catch 22 made me smile because I’ve often recommended it to students who I felt it might resonate with and each time it has been loved .
    A few weeks ago we had a school delivery of new novels , not necessarily newly published but ones that our school did not have . These included new copies of Lord of the Flies to replace our well read tatty ones , The Fault in our Stars , The Giver , The Book Thief , Jasper Jones . In my first permanent year in the school it was awesome to hear the students comments and joy at ” new books ” as they were carried through the playground .
    Now it’s time for confession …. lately I have not read enough for pure pleasure …..something’s not right when this balance in your life is off kilter.
    Guess what’s on my Christmas holiday agenda ?

  3. Bianca:

    Hey Darcy!
    I love this post because it’s forced me to think back to when I started being a ‘reader’ as a child. I actually can’t remember. I do recall my mum telling me once that I came home from my first day of school very angry because I hadn’t been taught to read yet. That pretty much captures my attitude to reading – it’s essential.
    When I was in primary school I visited the school library all of the time. I don’t remember ever being bought any books – we weren’t a particularly well-off family and books were likely too expensive. I did buy a lot of books from Vinnies once I was earning my own money. Two of my older siblings are avid readers – I remember my brother finished LOTR and being so impressed. It was the trilogy in one massive book – how could I not be impressed? My sister used to read all of the Virginia Andrews books, staying up until the early hours of the morning. My other sister never read a book when we were kids. I’m pretty confident she still hasn’t – and to be honest, we always thought of her as being less intelligent as a result. It’s kind of sad that she never found her book niche. I thin she’d enjoy reading.
    Anyway, once I got into high school I was given books by an awesome English teacher – Rod Leonarder, actually – he also introduced me to poetry (Plath!). I carried a book with me everywhere and loved being called a nerd, cos I knew nerds understand people and the world best.
    Thanks for this post – gosh I love reading, and I’m so glad both of my boys have been influenced by my love of it too.
    🙂

  4. My dad was the reader in my family. My early memories are of him reading to me every night. My grandad was also a huge reader and library user. He gave me precious books for birthdays and Christmas many of which I still have. When I was in year six my grandad read a book, he gave it to my dad and my dad gave it to me.
    I read “every” book in the primary school library my favourite place in the school. Sadly though I left reading behind for a while in high school. Then in year eleven it all kicked in again.
    I read to meet wonderful characters and to visit amazing real and imaged places. I read because when I am inside a book I can temporarily leave the real world.
    As a Teacher Librarian I love to see children find this joy. The books on my library shelves feel like old friends and I adore introducing them to young readers. Like Carla we are in the process of purchasing replacements for some of our treasures which are totally worn out.
    My biggest issue is giving children the gift of time so they can discover the amazing experience of loosing yourself in a truly great book.
    As I have been stocktaking I have filled three baskets (so far) with books for the christmas holidays.

  5. Carly Biddolph:

    I don’t really remember what started my love of books. Mum tells me that she used to read to me as a child, but I don’t have any memories of this. Interestingly, neither of my parents are readers, but the lives of myself, and my younger sister, seem to be inseparable from the books we are reading at any given time.

    Probably the one of the earliest memories I have of being encouraged to read was in primary school, I think in either year 2 or 3. I was reading a book that I had been given second hand by my cousin, and was reading it in the school library at lunch. The librarian was this amazingly warm, encouraging, hippie/ alternative type. She saw what I was reading (Missing you Love Sara by Jackie French), and was amazed that I was reading something she said was quite challenging for my age. From then on, she encouraged me to borrow books from the year 5-6 section of the library. It felt like I was given exclusive access to books, and to reading something important, something that mattered . I think this would have to be one of the key moments that has shaped my identity as a reader.

    There are so many more that I can attribute to High School (my year 12 English teacher instilling in me a love of the classics and “great literature”, and then my University lecturers and Tutors, who shattered this elitist idea of literature, inspiring me to read books in all their forms and genres (popular, classics, graphic novels, digital texts. I try to read a bit of everything now- I believe it will make me a better English teacher, and a more knowledgeable person.

  6. Cassandra Pride:

    Hi Darcy

    Have you read ‘You Gotta BE the Book”? It’s an inspiring book about the research a teacher undertook to investigate how engaged teen readers read. What were they actually doing that increased engagement?

    As a new graduate (mature age) trying to enter the workforce, I always mention that I am a passionate reader. As any psychologist will tell you, modelling behaviour is one of the strongest ways to instigate that same behaviour in others (your father being a case in point). I am surprised/disappointed at how often my explicit discussion of current literature or YA fiction takes other teachers by surprise. Why did they become English teachers if not for a genuine and passionate love for reading driving their move towards instilling the same in others?

    Whole school literacy programs are a deep personal interest and something I cannot wait to be involved in. Of course, I need a job first.

  7. Darcy Moore:

    Thanks Sue, Carla, Momo, Bianca, Carly and Cassandra. I appreciate he time you have taken to post a comment sharing your thoughts and stories as readers. 🙂

    I will seek out ‘You Gotta BE the Book”, Cassandra.

  8. Felicity:

    I always read, everything I could get my hands on. I recall both my parents reading at times in my childhood. I tried to read everything on the bookcases at home, I made my way through whole shelves of the school library, I took tours of the local library to go to different shelves and was so excited when I started to use the grown-up section. There are still books I pick up today and realise I had tried to read them when I was younger or didn’t have the patience to understand then. The absolute worst thing about teaching is the lack of time to read for fun …

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