Readersforum's Blog

February 22, 2013

Why ready access to books is just as important as superfast broadband

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 6:35 pm

The newest tool in social engagement? Reading – so think Gutenberg, not Zuckerberg, says Cathy Rentzenbrink

I have never taken my ability to read for granted. My father was unable to read well until he was 30 years old. In fact, he didn’t even pick up a book to read for pleasure until he retired. I know this because I coached him through his reading development, step by step. At first, he read bits of the newspaper – the sports section, mainly – then he moved on to sports biographies and, from there, short thrillers. Today he reads almost everything, except the most complex literary fiction.

My father is probably the reason I ended up working for Quick Reads, a book industry charity that supports wider adult readership. We aim to make it easier for those who don’t read – or those who have lost confidence in their ability to pick up a book – to get back into reading. I’ve witnessed at every stage the journey my father has made from novice to confident reader, and have seen first hand the causes and effects of low literacy. Thankfully, I’ve also seen the hugely transformative effect that reading for pleasure can have.

We recently commissioned new research that revealed that as many as one in 10 adults in Britain never read, many of them because they say they don’t have time; one quarter – 12 million people – have only picked up a book once in the last six months. This is a problem, an illustration of our failing as a society. We talk of digital disengagement but literary disenfranchisement is just as worrying.

A new study from the Institute for Education suggests that for many people books are, or could become, vital tools of social engagement. In an age in where “being connected” for many means a mobile connection to Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, online social networks are simply the latest manifestation of a far older phenomenon – the group conversation.

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