Thursday 14 November 2013

Reading for pleasure

Tuesday night found me discussing my novel, A Sister for Margot, with a book club from Nettlebed. The prospect of talking about my work with a group of strangers is always daunting, but the group's relaxed vibe made for an enjoyable evening. There's something about a book club that oils communication (or was that the wine?) and leads you down conversational alleys you may not have visited before. In two hours, we covered blighted potential, use of the present tense in A Sister for Margot, ebooks, the war dead and the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan.

Books on shelf
Books could keep you out of prison
I know from my own book club that discussion of a story or plotline is often a jumping-off point for more personal revelations. It is a cliche to say that women love to chat, but book clubs provide a few extra ingredients: literary analysis, escapism, a window on another world and the chance to exchange ideas. Girls consistently outperform boys at school and the popularity of book clubs amongst women perhaps harks back to a fondness for structured study and analysis.

In a recent lecture for the Reading Agency, author Neil Gaiman highlights a fascinating correlation between reading for pleasure and levels of criminality: 
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 on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn't read. And certainly couldn't read for pleasure.
Such an algorithm may be a crude measure of future crime rates, but it is widely accepted that reading fiction can increase levels of empathy in children. Stories invite us to look at other lives and to see the world through different viewpoints.

Here's another cliche: are girls more empathetic than boys? Is this why girls read more fiction? Or is this because they read more fiction? Certainly, book clubs tend to be the province of women, although my husband often talks about setting up a dads' book group. This gender bias could explain my efforts to inspire a love of fiction in my young son, with the help of Enid Blyton, Gwyneth Rees and Horrid Henry. One day this might equip him to join a book club of his own, with the added bonus of keeping him out of a penitentiary institution.

Thanks to Julie, the Nettlebed book club and author/photographer Clive Limpkin for introducing me to Neil Gaiman's lecture. 

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