Reading can make you happy


This book, now at the top of the Guardian’s best sellers list, is a must read for book lovers. It reminds me why I read. As a child I ‘always had my head in a book’, as my parents used to say, sometimes with amusement, other times with annoyance. I would be lying on the floor, propped up on my elbow, engrossed and far away. We were mostly all in the same room so I was surrounded by people and noise. Nothing distracted me, I was in my own world.

Reading has always been a central passion. In my very early life books came from the library. At least once a week I walked to the small local library with my Mum, until I’d read all books of interest. I got through books so quickly that I went beyond my age group. I remember taking out six books to last all summer and then getting through them in a week. So I went beyond fiction and read travel, history, all sorts. I even read Georgette Heyer’s historical romances. More Downton Abbey than Mills & Boon. My parents weren’t particularly bookish. Mum read Victoria Holt and Jean Plaidy; I don’t remember Dad reading anything. The only books on our shelves were a medical dictionary, a bible, some green Penguin crime books and a cowboy book by Zane Grey. But I read because they encouraged me and my teachers told me to. Most of my gifts were books. I still have a Dickens that Dad bought me one Christmas.

I suppose that there were fewer options for self development and entertainment in those days. Certainly no competition from technology. If you wanted to escape from the daily grind of school and chores you stuck your head in a book. Things have changed, of course. Apparently only one in three teenagers now read for pleasure. Perhaps not surprising in view of the way the National Curriculum demands can destroy a love of reading. It took me years post uni to resume reading for pleasure. We know that many children do not read outside of school. Even celebrities like Victoria Beckham feel no shame in admitting that they’ve only ever read one book.

We need to read not just as entertainment but because books can help us to make sense of our lives. Books are great companions when we’re alone, sad, in need of silence. In the aforementioned book ten of our greatest authors remind us when reading can transform us, why it’s not one-way communication and how it can be one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Zadie Smith talks about the pleasures of the library and how local libraries can be ‘gateways to other lives’. Blake Morrison describes how ‘the best books give us a lifeline, a reason to believe, a way to breathe more freely’. Tim Parks focuses on the flexibility and enchantment of reading. Then there is Mark Haddon, Michael Rosen, Nicholas Carr and my favourite Jeanette Winterson. Finally Jane Davis who founded The Reader Organisation talks about the pleasures of shared reading and discussing what you have read. When I read a good book I want to talk about it. I usually give it away so that creates an opportunity to share impressions. My friends Louise, Lis and Hanora all belong to reading groups. As Jane Davis says…

‘What people instinctively know, and what science is beginning to understand, is that what makes people happy above all is a network of supportive fellow creatures, a sense of purpose, challenge and meaningful occupation. Shared reading can provide all this. Get a few people together, pick up a good book, and try it!’ I just might…

2 thoughts on “Reading can make you happy

  1. Couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said/quoted here. I don’t know where I’d be without books to read. The best books for me are the ones I don’t want to end because I feel part of them! (may sound crackers but that’s how it feels sometimes) xx

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