Neil Gaiman on Reading and Obligation

On 14th October 2013, the wildly successful writer Neil Gaiman appeared at the Barbican Centre in London to deliver The Reading Agency’s second annual lecture, following in the footsteps of Jeanette Winterson who in 2012 spoke of how society should look toward valuing libraries and what she referred to as ‘the life of the mind’.

Gaiman’s lecture was similarly themed though, of course, no less inspiring. Extolling the virtues of reading for pleasure, he stated his belief that it  is one of the most important things one can do“, after which he made a clear case for why he believes that reading is key, in any way shape or form: Words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading.” However, arguably one of the most important points he made concerned the validity of what children read- that is, encouraging them to read anything as finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books and letting them read them” is key to showing young people that reading is a pleasurable activity.” A lengthy extract on this:

“There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.

Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st century equivalents of Victorian “improving” literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.

We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy.”

Mr Gaiman also went on to discuss the way Libraries are valued in the 21st Century, the frequent misnomer that they are just about books and nothing more- to some, irrelevant in a rapidly changing world where thanks to the internet, information is all around us and can be reached by simply tapping a smartphone. He situates libraries at the forefront of this information shift, rightfully proclaiming that they can adapt, they themselves are “the gates to the future”, that 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.” We agree Neil!

The full inspiring lecture can be viewed below and a complete transcript has been posted by The Reading Agency themselves here.


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