Reading Snobbery

A friend of mine was having a rant on Facebook last night because someone who was a complete stranger to her had taken it upon themselves to berate her for reading a gossip magazine (you know, something like Hello! or Closer).  It wasn’t as simple as decrying her choice of reading either; the individual made the assumption that as she was reading such a thing, she had to have issues with confidence and self-image, so I get the impression the discussion got quite personal.

Although my first thought was the obvious one of “Who do people think they are to make such aspersions about total strangers?” it later got me thinking about how dyslexics might feel should a similar situation happen to them and what the potential consequences of such an occurrence might be.

When an individual makes a disparaging remark, no thought is given to the circumstances of the recipient of the disdainful comment, or what such words might cause them to internalise, regardless of whether or not there is any substance to the both what was said or the subsequent thoughts the receiver might have in relation to it.  While some people might say it’s easier to live by the adage of if you haven’t anything nice to say don’t say anything at all, it isn’t always as simple as that.

In the instance of grouping children by reading ability, they quickly learn who are deemed the struggling readers, by the size of the lowest set of nothing else – because lower ability groups need to be smaller so that the children who need the extra support get it.  But still, I remember being appalled and hurt when a child (by this point someone old enough to know better than to say such a thing) felt the need to tell me that we would be reading better and harder books were it not for me – I later moved from the bottom to the top reading stream so her nastiness was just that and her comment bore no weight in the long run – but even in primary school children are taught to associate certain types of books – those that are shorter in length, for example – with a decreased level of intelligence.

Why does this have to be the case?  As has been proven countless times dyslexics can be whoever they want to be – I certainly didn’t know Jamie Oliver and Keira Knightly (to name but two) were dyslexic before I started volunteering here.  That being said, when book snobbery begins in primary schools, why is it a surprise that it is rife among the British general public?  Why do popular book series’ that appeal to the young and older people alike, such as Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, have to have separate covers for children and adults?  If you enjoy reading, it shouldn’t matter how the content is dressed up, whether it be a front cover of a book or the medium within which the book is contained, whether it’s a gossip magazine, an audio book or an encyclopaedia.

Nor should the content of your preferred reading material be judged.  Although I don’t read an awful lot of it personally, chick lit such as the recently released Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy gets an awful lot of bad press.  Actually, it’s more that the women that choose to read them sometimes get seen as having nothing between the ears, because it’s not seen as intellectual.  At the opposite end of the scale, science fiction and fantasy fans are seen as nerds, and those that prefer books thought of as high brow classics – I’m thinking along the lines of Jane Austen here –  could be deemed old-fashioned.  My point is, everyone has different interests, the same way that people have different levels of proficiency with regards to reading.  As a result, no-one should be condemned because of their personal tastes or abilities.  The consequences of having something as inconsequential as what a person chooses to read being belittled and mocked could be far-reaching, not only affecting their educational development and self-esteem, but ultimately their willingness and ability to reach their full potential.

While I don’t think anyone would argue with me about the fact that reading snobbery needs to be combated, less clear is how this should be done, although educational intervention is key to change societal attitudes.  I’m not saying that setting by ability needs to be eradicated, that does have its place as they can be of great benefit to children.  However, it still needs to be made clear that along with the support that these teaching methodologies provide, children also need to be taught that life is about more than being put in a particular group or being given a specific label.  It’s about making the correct choices for yourself so you can aspire to be exactly what you want to be and nobody has the right to make anyone – child or adult, dyslexic or non-dyslexic, feel as if they cannot achieve that because of what they choose to read.

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Dyslexia Awareness Week 2013: Making People Aware of the Importance of Reading

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.