Earlier today, I stumbled across an extremely well written article regarding the importance of libraries, books and reading. The writer was author Neil Gaiman, who gave the annual Reading Agency lecture (Reading Agency being an organisation that, according to Gaiman, exists to give equal opportunities to all by helping everyone become able readers).
In the lecture, he spoke about why books are so vital. You may wonder why this merits repeating, but in the context of Dyslexia Awareness Week, I think it is no bad thing to remind ourselves of a couple of simple facts:
It is estimated that 1 in 10 people in the UK have dyslexia.
A significant part of this condition means that those who have it find it difficult to read.
So what is it that they are being denied as a result of this? Or, to put it another way, why is reading essential?
One, reading introduces people to new words that arm them with new ways in which to express themselves that leads to a greater understanding of themselves and other people. On a related note, this increased understanding lets people make sense of the world around them generally not just at work or school, but even in just having a conversation with friends. The more words we know, the more nuances we can make, meaning that we can understand people better. Consequently, this makes it easier to empathise with others and to be more engaged with society.
I’m not just talking about understanding what’s going on in, for example, Game of Thrones, either.
As much as people find a book easier to digest when they can relate to the character (aged eight I chose the first book that I read for pleasure on the basis that the character and I had the same name) it is not possible to identify with everyone you read about. However, the more you read, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, the more knowledge you have about situations you may one day encounter.
For those books that have no bearing on real life whatsoever, well, that’s true escapism. Who doesn’t deserve that? And even if they don’t happen to have anything in common with reality at first glance, it doesn’t mean they can’t. For example, nobody is going to meet a wizard like Harry Potter, but perhaps they will need to have the courage in the face of adversity that Harry so often displayed.
“Oh but why not watch the film? Kids will prefer that anyway!” I hear you cry.
Here’s the thing. With film and TV, the colours, sights and sounds are there to be seen already, it’s someone else’s world, not yours that can be imagined and explored in your head.
When you come out of the book and back into the real world, you are better for it (provided you haven’t been forced to read it) regardless of the initial intention. Not only that, but for so many reasons, knowledge is power. Empowering dyslexics is even more important than it would be for others when you consider that they often feel powerless as result of the struggles they face. If a dyslexic is encouraged to read and finds a good book then maybe being dyslexic won’t be so scary anymore, which is why an organisation like Barrington Stoke, and indeed literacy in general, is so crucial.
Neil Gaiman conveys the general importance of literacy much better than me, check out a transcription of the lecture.