This week, attending a book club meeting, I was asked the question, ‘Where are tomorrow’s writers going to come from?’ It was spoken with frustration by a primary school teacher who told me that parents don’t read to their children any more, that children don’t grow up seeing their parents reading at home, that living rooms are no longer lined with bookshelves. And if parents don’t read to their children, who are they going to inherit their love of books from? Who are they are going to inherit their love of words from – and how will a passion for writing develop? The issues I heard discussed were complex: technology reducing attention spans; emails costing us the art of letter-writing; texting altering the English language; parents whose first language was not English. We all want information and we all want to be entertained, but we want it now and we want it to be fed to us via 3D computer games along high speed broadband connections.
Well, not me. And not, it seemed, the group I was sitting amongst, who felt that the e-reader would never replace the tactile pleasure of opening the first page of a new book. Reading is an investment, not only of time but of emotions too. Unlike watching a film, the act of reading is never passive. Surely the fact that I had been invited into the home of one of a group of busy women who had committed themselves, not only to reading one book a month, but taking the time to share a glass of wine and discuss has to be a hugely positive thing, demonstrating that the investment is worthwhile? The book club lifts the act of reading from being something unsociable and selfish into a shared experience.
For me, one of my early acts of joyous rebellion was to hide under the blankets with a copy of the Owl Service and a torch, trying to stretch every last minute out of the day. Even now, the idea of curling up with a good book seems something of a selfish luxury. Usually, like you, I have to settle for a chapter before bedtime. But, it was a book (signed by the author) called Burnt Shadows that saved me from the tedium of long commutes by train last week. I was transported from Japan to Afghanistan feeling pity for my neighbours who were burdened with today’s doom and gloom in the Metro.
So, whilst I fully understand the sentiment that leads a London college lecturer to mourn when she is asked to read to her class because ‘they can’t be bothered’, forgive me if I don’t share such a pessimistic view. I prefer to believe that as long as there are thoughts and ideas, people will feel the urge to write. And while I know that small groups of friends are meeting in living rooms around the country, taking time to discuss what they loved and didn’t love quite so much about their chosen book of the month, how angry it made them or how sad, how uplifted they felt, how frustrated they were by the ending, and how, ever since they reached the end of the final page, they feel as if something – or someone – is missing from their lives, I will be inspired to continue writing. Thank you Orme Road Book Club.