Anne here, pondering the importance of reading for pleasure. Of course most readers of this blog are no strangers to that — we all know the joys of plunging into different worlds, other times, and 'meeting' other folk, courtesy of a good book. But not everybody understands this.
I've taught adults how to read all my adult life, and my most successful and enjoyable class was one we simply called "Book Group." Everyone was welcome, whether they could read or not, and all we did was read books aloud and talk about them. It was standing room only. The participants ranged in age from 16 to 80, young ratbags and tearaways, highly respectable adults, elderly people from all kinds of backgrounds. But they all shared what was a new love to them all —the love of stories.
That class ended when the funding was cancelled. Reading for pleasure was deemed "not important" by the powers that be. That was a long time ago, but two articles I came across recently have challenged that view: reading for pleasure is indeed very important.
The first article reported that teenagers who read for pleasure were more likely to be successful in later life.The second was an article that described how criminal offenders were being sentenced to read and discuss books — and that the process was transforming lives.
Teenagers who read for pleasure
A study by Oxford University in the UK concluded that teenagers who read for pleasure are more likely to go on to have successful careers. Girls who read for pleasure at age 16 had a 39% probability of reaching a managerial position at 33, as opposed to 25% for those who did not read for pleasure. For boys who read regularly, the figure went up from 48 per cent to 58 per cent.(You can read the whole article here)
No other leisure activities — sport, socialising,hobbies, watching movies, going to concerts, playing computer games or even activities like cooking or sewing were found to have any significant affect on future careers. It also increased the chanced of children attending university. Oxford sociologist Mark Taylor, who conducted the study, speculated that reading might be a factor because it sharpens the mind, or because it made employers feel comfortable employing someone who seemed well educated. The other possibility is that people who were destined for better careers would read more anyway.
It doesn't surprise me. I think it's about imagination as well. I think people who read for pleasure have good imaginations, and this is a quality that makes them able to work more effectively with other people. Someone with a good imagination can put themselves in other people's shoes, can approach a problem from different angles, can see new possibilities.
Whatever the reason, it's good news for teenage bookworms. And their parents.
The second article about the importance of reading comes from a very different social perspective — and it's about reading as an instrument of reform. According to the article I read, it's spreading across the US.
In this program, called Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) "repeat offenders of serious crimes such as armed robbery, assault or drug dealing are made to attend a reading group."
To most of us on this blog (readers or writers) being sentenced to read books sounds like bliss. Not so for many of these offenders for whom reading has been an ordeal, a challenge and a foreign experience. Many have never read a book.
But this reading program is changing lives.
The program began in Massachusetts in 1991 and started when Robert Waxler, a professor of English at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth convinced a judge he knew to take eight criminals who repeatedly came before him and place them on a reading programme that Waxler had devised instead of sending them to prison.
A follow-up study found that only 19% had reoffended compared with 42% in a control group. And those from the programme who did reoffend committed less serious crimes. The program now runs in eight states including Texas, Arizona and New York. (More on the CLTL program here)
The groups are run on a single sex basis and books are chosen which are likely to raise issues that members of the group might identify with. Offenders explore issues and reactions of the characters and compare them with their lives and experiences. Reading matter ranges from classical texts by Plato and Socrates to philosophical works like John Stuart Mill's 'On Liberty', modern classics such as Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Bell Jar and many others.
It's a brave and brilliant move, I think, to sentence offenders to read and discuss books instead of sending them to jail. Controversial, too, I imagine, but the studies are positive.
So, what do you think? What personal qualities do you think reading has enhanced in you? Did you get into trouble as a teen for 'wasting time reading? And if you were running a reading program for offenders, what books might you include?