The Importance of Reading Fiction as Championed by Neil Gaiman

I’m going to be quoting today from a lecture given by Neil Gaiman for The Reading Agency delivered on 14th October 2013 at the Barbican in London. If you would like to read the abridged version of this lecture as published in The Guardian on 15th October 2013 please follow this link. Although the lecture was given two years ago, it is still worth reading.

Also have a look at the website for The Reading Agency, a charity which aims to:

 inspire more people to read more, encourage them to share their enjoyment of reading and celebrate the difference that reading makes to all our lives. Because everything changes when we read.

Gaiman maintains that fiction builds empathy. He contrasts the differences between reading fiction and watching films or television.

When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.

He also champions the need for libraries:

But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

Gaiman cites Albert Einstein‘s response when asked how we could make our children intelligent:

“If you want your children to be intelligent,” he said, “read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

Gaiman’s interpretation of this is that Einstein:

understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.

I have a vivid memory of our class teacher reading to us on a hot summer’s afternoon in the mid 1960’s. The story was set in medieval times and there was troupe of travelling acrobats. I don’t remember the name of the book or the title, but I do know the the images conveyed have stayed with me. If you have an idea of which story it might have been, please let me know.

Likewise, when I read ‘The Weirdstone of Brisingamen,’ to my class of ten year olds, they rampaged the library looking for other books written by Alan Garner. Interestingly, it was the children, who previously had been reluctant readers, who rampaged the most.

Encouraging all of our children to read and having the books available in libraries is one of the best things we can do for the future of our world. Do read the Neil Gaiman lecture.

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