What was the last book you bought? I mean a proper book. Made out of paper. With real pages. And an actual cover. Where you had to venture out to a bookshop to buy it. When you allowed yourself more time than you’ll admit to just looking at all the delights on offer. Picking up titles, reading the blurbs and putting them back again. Until you found it. The one. The next adventure you could enjoy in your fluffy socks with a nice cup of tea and maybe a biscuit. Custard cream, obviously!
You see, reading an actual book is a real experience. One to be enjoyed. Sure it’s much quicker to browse the “most popular” section on our Kindles and plumb for some 99p e-book that promises to be the next best seller. Or we could download one of the gazillion free books to be found on the net. Both of those options are immediate. Easy. Convenient.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a Kindle. I quite like it. I’ve got masses of books on it. I’d probably need a library if I owned physical copies of all the books on my Kindle. But more often than not the battery is dead. I’ll charge it up again when I remember. Or when I’m going away and don’t want to take up precious luggage space with enough books to read. But, generally speaking, the battery is flat and so my virtual world of literature is beyond reach.
It’s not just that technology can be a real pain in the arse – it can be! – that keeps me heading back to the high street bookshop and not the online retailer.
Bookshops are magical places
There’s something really quite magical about visiting a book shop. About allowing ourselves to get lost in the different genre sections. About holding an armful of possible purchases and narrowing it down to just one or two. About the excitement of getting back home and making sure everything is just perfect before we allow ourselves to open the cover. Taking care not to break the spine.
Bookshops are also just lovely places to be. Sadly they’re becoming more rare as we witness the death of the high street. All of us can do more to support our local businesses, even if it is less convenient. Plus, you never know who you’re going to meet. Imagine meeting Mr Right as you both go to take the last copy of The Secret Garden down from the bookshelf. That first awkward moment soon blooms into a life-long love story that would have never had a chance if you’d clicked “add to basket.”
We still refer to great books as “page-turners.” They’re not button-presses. Or screen-swipers. A good book is called a page-turner for a reason. It’s because reading is an activity. It’s not passive. It requires some effort on our part. An investment of our time and imagination. We have to allow ourselves to be completely absorbed in a world beyond our own. That new world is unleashed as soon as the cover is opened and our eyes begin to scan the words. A great story-teller can keep us gripped. Will keep us turning those pages like our life depends on it.
Books spark our imagination
When my sister and me were little we read. A lot. Whenever we went on a long car journey I would listen to audiobooks because I got travel sick if I tried to read in the car. But my sister could read anywhere.
Enid Blyton and Roal Dahl were firm favourites. I still remember meeting Paula Danziger in our local library and being in awe of her ability to write forwards and backwards! We were both hooked on Point Horror books and – I can’t believe I’m going to admit this – we also got through the entire Sweet Valley High series.
We didn’t read to escape one another. Quite the opposite. Reading was a central part of our childhood. We’d share books. We’d talk about the stories we’d read. Which were our favourites. Why. Which characters we particularly liked. Or didn’t like.
We’d make up our own stories. We’d record ourselves reading them. And we’d play the best adventure games born entirely from our own heads. You see, we could imagine other worlds and characters we’d never met. We had a shared imagination. And we could do it because we read so much.
Our children deserve to have books in their lives
With all the talk of how we should limit our children’s screen time, we cannot let books disappear into history if we want them to be well-read individuals. Reading doesn’t just help to develop our children’s imagination, it also helps them hone their communication skills. They learn new words. They’re open to new concepts. They can develop and articulate their own ideas. They understand the difference between the written and the spoken word.
We’ve read books with GinGin ever since she was a tiny baby. It was just one of the ways we bonded together. Snuggled up on the sofa, she would be tucked in my arms, following along the words on the page and exploring every inch of the pictures. We still read together almost every day. And even if I don’t read with her, she reads to herself or to Roo who is also very interested in books and stories.
The really brilliant thing is that GinGin is now getting to the age where she can read all those books I adored as a child. We got her a collection of Enid Blyton books for her sixth birthday. The Magic Faraway Tree is still one of my all-time favourite stories. Happily GinGin also sees the magic of these tales.
Those books are precious to her. It doesn’t matter that Blyton’s stories were written nearly 80 years ago. It doesn’t matter that the child heroes and heroines don’t have iPads, games consoles or stunt-scooters. It doesn’t matter that they take delight in the simplest of treats – ginger beer! What does matter is the sense of adventure they bring. The friendships they share. The fun. The excitement. All of those things transcend time, and fashion. They are as central to childhood now as they were all those decades ago.
I also think – and this is purely my own opinion – that it’s no bad thing for our children to learn that not everything is immediate. Remember how I described the event of going to buy an actual book from an actual shop, rather than simply downloading text straight to a tablet or e-reader. Our kids need to learn that some things are worth waiting for. Some things are worth putting more effort in to. And that happiness and entertainment can be found in places other than inside a brightly lit screen.
Did you know that there are 16-year-olds living in the UK now who have no idea what an index is, or how to use it? Their instinct is to Google everything and trust the first answer or website that pops up. I know this to be true because I still teach A-Level students, and I witness it on a regular basis. Such a simple skill is at risk of being lost. Okay so it might be important for our children to learn how to write code. But it’s equally important that they’re taught to love books. And that should happen at home as well as at school.
So what was the last book you bought?
I started this off with a question. I’d love to know your responses in the comments below. For me, the last book I bought – well actually I bought two! – was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire accompanied by a collection of Enid Blyton’s Stories of Magic and Mischief. I bought them both yesterday. They’re for GinGin and me to read together. And in a couple of years’ time, I’ll read them with Roo too.
Over to you. What is the last book you bought? Or, if it’s been a while, what was your favourite childhood book. Tell me in the comments below.