I’ve been talking to some teachers lately about the difference between reading for pleasure and reading for education. It’s something that’s on the mind of educators a great deal: reading is a tool they use for teaching children, but many of the ways reading is used in education can put children off. Picking apart texts in order to analyse the way sentences are put together can ruin the enjoyment of story. Searching for particular information or writing techniques can blind a reader to the pleasure of prose or poetry. One answer to this is to ensure there’s time for ‘reading for pleasure’ within school, but this can be a tough call in the busy classroom schedule, and if a child’s not in a reading mood when ‘reading for pleasure’ time comes along, suddenly the pleasure becomes yet another classroom chore.
You can’t make someone love reading. All you can do is give them access to books and time and encouragement and hope it works out.
So here’s the thing: sometimes, as a writer, reading becomes enormously difficult. You can’t pick up a book without beginning to analyse the writer’s technique, flicking back and forth through the pages to see how they foreshadowed the brilliantly effective cliff-hanger moment or why the ending was so disappointing. You can’t switch off your writer brain. I think I can speak for all writers on this: reading is how we came to writing in the first place; losing the ability to immerse ourselves in books is distressing.
How can you tackle this?
1. Share books with children
I think when you read aloud you need to give so much more attention to actually expressing what’s on the page and also to being in the experience of the book with your child audience that it’s much easier to be immersed in the story.
2. Set aside reading time
I know, I know. There already aren’t enough hours in the day, what with writing and all the other stuff on your plate. But seriously, stitch in some ‘reading for pleasure’ time and make sure each chunk of time is long enough for you to get caught up in the story.
3. Don’t finish every book
If it doesn’t grab you, stop reading! The best book moments are those ones when you look up and the world around you doesn’t seem quite a real as the one that’s been conjured up inside your head by the words. With some books, now just isn’t the right time for it; others you may never get on with.
Sometimes the thing you need to read in order to immerse yourself in story is something that’s so familiar to you that it begins almost to autoplay as soon as you pick it up. If you’re having trouble with over-analysing, try something familiar.
I have to admit that audio books don’t always work for me, because I need to also be doing something with my eyes so simply sitting and listening is impossible because eyes begin to wander and then so do my eyes. However, listening to stories when I am doing just enough to stop me getting distracted – ironing, say, or driving or cooking – that is a perfect way to take in story.
6. Accept that sometimes you just can’t read
Don’t force it. If you’re not in the mood or you’ve got too much on your mind, even that book you’ve been looking forward to for months isn’t going to cut it. Save it until you know you can do it justice.
Just as with children, so with writers: time, access to books and encouragement will all help you read for pleasure. Remember, it’s all about the story. If you’re spending all the time looking at how it’s put together, you’re not doing it justice. Sit back, put yourself in the hands of the author and let them do their job.