Reading for Pleasure

Neil Gaiman gave the second annual lecture for The Reading Agency the other day. Miranda McKearney OBE, Founding Director of The Reading Agency said: “Tonight is part of an urgent debate about how to build a nation of readers and library users. Who better than the extraordinary Neil Gaiman to help us think through new solutions to the fact that for a wealthy country, with free education, we have a shocking literacy problem?”

Gaiman said: “I’m going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. I’m going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.”
He then spoke about ‘the power of fiction to transform our understanding of the world and turn us into citizens’: “The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy giving them access to those books and letting them read them.”
He cited research by America’s private prison industry, showing why reading fiction is so important: “I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based about asking what percentage of ten and eleven year olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure. It’s not one to one: you can’t say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations. And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.”