Today I’ve been wandering the London Book Fair, as dazed as Alice in Wonderland.
Amid all the gloss and bustle, there was a reality check that stayed with me. Reading books is a minority pursuit, according to Nicola Solomon from the Society of Authors. Apparently, people who like to read manage about 19 minutes a day. Compare that to the 10 hours a day we all spend on our phones or tablets. And the numbers of children reading are continuing to fall.
Calls to get more kids reading used to wash over my book-nerd head. I thought it was like the fretting over children’s levels of exercise, the need for them to move more. Some people like reading, some just don’t. Some are mad on sport, some aren’t. How much can you make someone like something they don’t like? Something that doesn’t come naturally to them?
I read without thought, without effort. It’s a complete reflex and pleasure. But ever since my first sports day, I’ve been a shambles at moving about in the world. In my sixth form common room everyone would hit the decks whenever I tried to throw my sandwich foil in the bin. And how I hated running. It was torture.
When my aunt died, I made myself run a 5K Race for Life. It took three bras and a lot of pounding beats to get my legs to work.
And yet. For someone that still thinks the best run is one that is OVER, I find myself running more and more often. For longer and longer. And I realise I’m utterly wrong about liking things despite yourself.
Because I’ve come to realise how brilliant it feels to slog through that voice. You know, the snaky one that says, ‘You’re rubbish at this. You’ll never be any good. Give up.’
Too often, when we’re younger, us girls don’t get the chances to stay active in a way that makes us feel good about ourselves. To make us feel strong and alive. Our bodies can achieve the most exhilarating things. They are not just surfaces to be looked at.
Sticking out the physical pain of exercise makes us stronger. Sticking with reading makes us stronger too, in a different way. We get stories. We get more ways to think of ourselves and others. We get more experiences than one life can hold. We get to imagine different futures. We don’t have to be trapped by other people’s words. We can tell the voice in our heads to shut up, and keep going anyway.