Well, today is World Book Day. Alexander McCall Smith was on the breakfast news, #worldbookday or #wbd11 is trending on Twitter, everyone is talking books. I would like to think this means everyone, the world over, will be talking about books, buying books, borrowing books, reading books and even writing books, but the cynic in me remains convinced that those of us who are marking the day read anyway. It’s great to encourage new readers. There’s little better than reading a story, taking yourself out of the real and into the unreal, the fantasy, whatever form that may take. Film as a medium is great, but nothing quite beats a book.
There was a question going round about the nation’s favourite teen read and, big surprise, it’s Harry Potter. Now, the cynic in me is rising again. My own teen read was Chartbreak by Gillian Cross, plus I read loads of Betsy Byars books. I was never one for reading what everyone else was reading (as you can probably work out easily enough). I have never read the Harry Potter series and all the while my reading list is as long as it is – and I don’t see it diminishing any time soon, because as soon as I read one, I add another half dozen to the list – I never will. There are books I feel I should read, but reading should be a pleasure, not a chore, so the ones I don’t want to read, whether or not I “should”, I won’t. But that still leaves me with rather a lot to get through before I shuffle off this mortal coil.
Here are some of my favourite writers, just as a taster, and in no particular order: Jasper Fforde (no surprise there); Terry Pratchett (or there); Neil Gaiman; Joanne Harris; Michèle Roberts (don’t you dare say “Who?”); Anne Rice; Xinran; Dai Sijie; Guo Xiaolu; Stephen King (you didn’t think I’d leave the master off the list, did you?)… That’s just the ones who spring to mind first.
I love books. I breathe books. I dream books. I write books. I read books. I live books. Not everyone reads (more’s the pity), but surely no one can deny they like a good story. OK, I’ll illustrate that. When there’s something sensational on the news, people watch; when a soap opera character is killed off, people mourn; when there’s something going on within a circle of friends, the ‘Did you hear about…’ discussions come thick and fast. And the one thing all this has in common is Story. Because we need to know. We want to know who we are; where we come from; how it all began (will we ever answer that question?); and it all stems from an inherent human curiosity about absolutely everything. We read books because we want to escape the everyday mundane routine, to live someone else’s life, see things through someone else’s eyes. Some of us read just to revel in the ultimate pleasure: the act of reading itself.
Some people have trouble reading, and that’s OK. They may see it as a chore or a difficulty rather than a pleasure, for whatever reason that might be. The problem I have is with people who dismiss reading as a waste of time. Let me get one thing clear: reading is never a waste of time. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, fantasy or horror, biography or history, literary or… not; reading is a worthwhile investment of your time. If other people see it as ‘geeky’, the thing is not to get angry about it, but to feel sorry for them. After all, they’re missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures.
So, today is World Book Day. What will you do?