In Praise Of: True Crime

Many years ago I worked as a bookseller for Borders and I have to admit that the true crime section was not one that I thought of as full of ‘literature’. All the books had sensational covers with big red letters and bad photographs. They were small fat books that didn’t get many visitors, and while I thought some of the topics looked sort of interesting, their terrible covers and titles put me off. So I turned my nose up at true crime. It seemed almost as bad as the trend for Misery Memoirs a few years ago –  books that implied you were entertained by the suffering of others and that you fell for the sensationalised titles and covers. They were the book equivalent of the trashiest tabloid newspaper.

But as time has passed I’ve realised that I have an interest not in suffering or sensationalism, but in crime. I like crime novels, detective TV shows, mysteries and thrillers. And surely the best stories are always the ones that are true? These days it seems to me that love true crime is as popular as ever, but there are more socially acceptable ways of receiving it – podcasts are the prime example. People went mad for Serial, and now In the Dark is making a splash, as well as Criminal. There’s also the success of the Netflix series Making a Murderer, which I thought was brilliant. I’m pleased to hear there will be a second series.

I enjoyed Making a Murderer so much because it delved right into not only what may or may not have happened in terms of the murder itself, but also the events following it – the search for Teresa Halbach, the police investigation, and the ways in which Steven Avery was identified as a suspect. The investigative and legal processes are fascinating to me, and I was glued to the scenes featuring Avery’s lawyers as they worked on their case, and especially when they were arguing in court.

I think my interest in this area is linked to my interest in psychology and unusual people. People who are in some way different from others, people who are strange or unusual, are inherently interesting to me. I like weird stories and unexplained mysteries – the ‘other’ side of life. People who commit serious crimes are on that other side.

Which leads me to serial killers. They are some of the most extreme and troubled of people, and some of the most interesting. There are a handful of topics that regularly lead me down Wiki-holes, and serial killers is one of them. When J. P. March had a bunch of them over for dinner in the Halloween episode of American Horror Story: Hotel, I knew their stories already.

Listening to the podcasts mentioned above, and my Reading Lists project, lead me to consider The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule. This was a book I’d been aware of for quite a while, but worrying that it was too trashy stopped me from getting hold of a copy. But my new attitude to reading what I really want made me click ‘order’ on Wordery.com.

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Like the trashiest true crime books, it is small and fat and has a very questionable cover design; but The Stranger Beside Me proved to be an engaging and fascinating book. It is as much about Ann Rule and her experience as it is about her subject, Ted Bundy, and it was a rich and immersive reading experience. Rule was a journalist before she wrote books, and this was her first one, so the style is quite journalistic, which I think worked well. She is methodical in detailing what happened, or what might have happened, and manages to mix the ‘cold hard facts’ of Bundy’s crimes with the emotional aftermath.

Ann Rule was in a unique position when it came to Ted Bundy – she knew him in real life purely by chance, and she was assigned to write about his crimes before anyone knew that he was the one committing them. Some of the most interesting sections in the book are when Rule tries to reconcile the man she knew in the early seventies – young, polite, caring, intelligent – with the man who committed these crimes. He was someone entirely different. In this vein the later updates to the book are fascinating as Rule looks back on the period with hindsight. She states that she was wrong to think Bundy was insane, and that at the time she had a limited understanding of what that meant. The passing of the years has allowed her to learn more about people like him, and for her view of him to expand and develop. She comes to understand that he was not insane, but was a true psychopath.

I wouldn’t recommend reading The Stranger Beside Me if you are home alone and it’s dark outside, particularly if you are female. Bundy kidnapped many women in broad daylight, but the most frightening tales of him are those in which he crept into houses late at night and murdered girls in their beds – such as his ‘visit’ to the Chi Omega sorority house in Florida in 1978. These episodes, along with the kidnapping and killing of twelve-year-old Kimberley Leach, really show the most frightening sides of his personality.

Ann Rule writes a certain type of true crime book. Her heyday was the eighties and nineties, so the covers of her books look quite dated, and they do have slightly melodramatic titles – they do not have the reserved and ‘sophisticated’ look of titles such as The Monster of Florence or Columbine. She does not spare details, and she readily includes the emotional side of the story. The fact is she was not an investigative journalist, and they are the people that usually present true crime stories to us these days. Her style is a little dated, but she is a brilliant storyteller and an engaging writer. I am considering reading one or two of her others books (she wrote a lot of them), and I’m glad to have discovered a new genre of writing that I find interesting. True crime isn’t for everyone, but I will definitely be reading more of it.

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The Stranger Beside Me was first published in 1980 by Norton; I read the 2008 edition from Pocket Books (pictured above).

Puchase from Wordery and Foyles.

 

Can We Take a Minute to Appreciate the New Maggie O’Farrell Hardback?!

I recently reviewed Maggie O’Farrell’s new book This Must Be The Place, after the publisher kindly sent me a lovely review copy. It was a very attractive review copy, but my hardback copy arrived today from Wordery, and my goodness it is beautiful. Whoever came up with and executed its design deserves all the awards. Here it is:

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The printed cover is just lovely – it reflects the various countries featured in the novel, but also looks beautiful. Well done Tinder Press!

In Praise Of: Horror!

Yes, horror. As in the genre, not the feeling in real life.

When I think of the horror genre, I think first of movies. I have always been a bit a scaredy-cat with them and let them get into my head, and find it hard to sleep after watching them. But this has begun to change recently, mostly because my boyfriend Dan is a massive fan of the genre. I used to refuse to watch horror films with him for fear of being too ‘bothered’ by them; but over time I have compromised and agreed to watch a few milder ones about possession or something. And I can now say that I am happy to watch horror films – though I still have a limit. I happily watched The Babadook, but I refuse to watch any of the Saw films, as they just seem to be gore on top of gore. Not my thing.

I have always loved The Others, the Nicole Kidman movie about a very haunted house, famously made with minimal special effects. It is really bloody scary, but I love it because I find it interesting. And as I have watched more horror films with Dan, and we have talked about them, and he has explained why he loves them, I have come to understand them more and realise what it is that makes them interesting. I think some people watch them for the thrill of the fear, but I think I watch them because not only are they interesting psychologically, they are also exciting, in a similar way to a gritty crime novel – what will happen next? What is the truth? As with Saw I don’t want to watch anything gory – that doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather something psychological with a mystery, and a few good scares along the way. I’ve always liked gothic themes and imagery, and this is a huge part of the horror genre.

Now, Dan loves horror movies, but he also like books that fit into the genre in some way, from ghost stories to strange fiction like H. P. Lovecraft and Robert Aickman. I’ve tried reading Aickman and just couldn’t get along with it; but then Dan brought a copy of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House with him on our recent holiday. He was reading The Amityville Horror, and I’d just finished Cheerful Weather for the Wedding and had nothing else to read, so I picked up the Jackson.

2009 PMC paperback edition (image: penguinclassics.co.uk)
2009 PMC paperback edition (image: penguinclassics.co.uk)

I loved her novel Hangsaman and already wanted to read something more by her. I loved The Haunting of Hill House from the start; the opening paragraph was enough to make me keep reading:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

I mean, that is just fantastic. The last few words also made me think of Satan walking on the sphere of the Earth in Paradise Lost, which was a nice little bonus. And so ominous!

The novel tells the story of a professor who invites a group of people to stay with him in Hill House, and see if they can find any evidence of it being haunted. One, Theodora, has some sort of psychic ability; then there is Eleanor, our central character, who has experienced supernatural ‘activity’; and lastly Luke, who is the heir to the house. The professor’s wife also turns up later on and causes a lot of problems. Anyway. It is a classic haunted house story, with funny noises, inexplicable cold drafts, loud bangs, and lots of weird occurrences.

But the most gripping part of it for me was the strange effect that staying in the house seems to have on Eleanor. She begins to feel that it wants her there, that it is trying to talk to her… suffice to say as the novel goes on, it gets more and more intense, and stranger things start to happen. The pace is beautifully measured, and the reader isn’t sure whether or not to believe Eleanor, or to believe if there are ghosts in house or not. As I have realised Jackson’s work to be, it is engaging and beguiling, surreal and beautiful.

The Haunting of Hill House, as a book, is creepy rather than outright scary. The first film adaptation, released in 1963 is often called the scariest film ever made. I’ve yet to see it, but am eager to see the transition of the story to the screen – I can easily imagine that it would be much more frightening as a film than as a book. There was another film adaptation, released in 1999 and staring Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones, called simply The Haunting, which frankly looks a bit silly, but could still be good. I shall be watching both to compare!

So what do you think of horror?

Adventures with Audiobooks: The Smart One by Jennifer Close

I used to listen to audiobooks as a child, but they haven’t really been part of my ‘library’ as an adult. We listened to A Song of Ice and Fire and Lord of the Rings on road trips, but that was about it. My new job requires me to take a 30-minute bus to and from the office, and I get car-sick if I read on the bus (the bane of my life) so I decided to try an audiobook. Sadly there wasn’t one of the book I am currently reading as I thought that would be the perfect solution, to combine paper and audio. Instead I opted for a light read that wouldn’t distract me from my main book, and something that was on my long-term TBR. This was The Smart One by Jennifer Close.

I read Close’s previous novel, Girls in White Dresses, and enjoyed it without loving it. The Smart One sounded good though, and I thought I may as well give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen?

Well, turns out it’s much harder to make your own judgements on a book, and get to know it in your own way, when it’s read to you by someone else. That person’s intonations and stresses affect how you interpret certain scenes and characters, and the person’s voice and tone sets a mood for the whole thing that you can’t really escape. This isn’t a problem if you like the reader’s voice and they remain fairly neutral while still conveying relevant stresses, implications, and free indirect speech. But if the reader takes over as it were, and you can’t see the book any way but theirs, then it’s kind of a problem. This is what happened to me listening to The Smart One.

2013 Vintage (UK) paperback edition
2013 Vintage (UK) paperback edition

It’s a novel about a family, and their successes and failures, and the two daughters in particular are having a pretty rubbish time of it when we meet them. We hear chapters from each of their perspectives (though all in the third person), and we hear all about their terrible lives – and because this is being read to you, by this particular reader, it is intense and hard to escape. They are normal life woes, nothing earth-shattering, but my impression of the whole thing was that it was really depressing. I think if I were reading the paper book, I would be able to brush these things off or at least see them in the wider context of the book; but when you are listening to an audiobook you are so involved in each moment, it being read to you alone, that it’s hard to remember everything that’s around it. I think this would be ok, and indeed good, with certain books, or a book that was better written or that I liked more. That was also a problem – it’s hard to get away from bad writing in an audiobook. Hearing a person read the bad writing is like hearing someone you don’t like talking at you for hours. You get annoyed, and you can’t skim over it. Suffice to say I have not chosen to listen to The Smart One for the last few days. In case you want to avoid it, the reader is an actress called Rebecca Lowman, and this version is on iBooks and Audible. She has a lovely voice, but she made the whole thing really bleak.

I think in future I need to be very selective about the audiobooks I listen to – it is a completely different experience from reading a paper book, one that isn’t always good.

Plus they are really expensive in the iBooks store. What is up with that?!

I know some people love audiobooks, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. I will definitely try an audiobook again, but be really selective. I guess that’s a good plan?

 

Top 5 Books for Spring!

Spring is (kind of) in the air, and I at least am starting to long for the warmer weather, no need for a big coat, sun shining down… and what better way to embrace the new (slightly) warmer weather with an appropriate book?

(image: thedailydosage.com)
(image: thedailydosage.com)

Yes, it has the wrong season in the title, but Summer Crossing is perfect for pretty much any season. An early, imperfect novel of Capote’s, it is full of youth and desperation, love, and the hope for a better life. Having read it twice now I can vouch for the beauty and compassion underneath the shallow characters and the now-typical setting. It is flawed, but brilliant.

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(image: goodreads.com)

Another summery book that will get you in the mood for Spring is Tigers in Red Weather. This was a bit of a sensation when it was published in 2012, and author Liza Klausmann is set to be back in the spotlight this year with the publication of her second novel, Villa America. Tigers is a very impressive debut, both atmospheric, psychological, and vividly real. And look at the amazing cover!

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(image: goodreads.com)

I read The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield at university, for a course about modernism and the concept of time, and the title story in particular has stuck with me. It is a beautiful haze of family, food, and summer – it captures perfectly how the smallest things can change a mood or set a scene. And it is of course about the fluidity of time and the strangeness of life. The other stories in this volume are just as beautiful.

(image: goodreads.com)
(image: goodreads.com)

The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh has an air of the romantic epic about it, with heroine Frances travelling to South Africa and dealing with a volatile love triangle. But it is also the story of her daily struggles and adaptation to a new life in a new country. McVeigh’s writing is vivid and real, and the book is pure escapism. I loved it.

(image: goodreads.com)
(image: goodreads.com)

The recent film adaptation of Wild by Cheryl Strayed has reminded me how excellent the book is. It is a perfect combination of memoir and travelogue, with Strayed being unaware of delve into her past, while celebrating the present and the future. I also loved hearing about the Pacific Crest Trail and what it was like to do it (it even made me wish I could). I haven’t seen the film yet, and would urge you to read the book first!

(image: goodreads.com)
(image: goodreads.com)

What will you be reading for Spring?

An Update (That Inevitably Includes ASOIAF)

How is your GoodReads challenge going this year? Mine is not going well. I’ve read three books and am apparently five books behind schedule. You know why? A Song of Ice and Fire. I’ve been reading A Clash of Kings for what feels like a year, and I’m only just over halfway through. There was a point where it all started to feel a bit… long. I found myself wanting to hurry up and get to the end of the book so that I could move on. This was partly because I have seen a version of what I am reading in the TV adaptation, Game of Thrones. There are a lot of differences between the books and the TV show, which means that there is a lot that is new to me – but I know where a lot of it is heading. I read a scene, no matter how good, and go ‘oh yes, this is where he…’ I know what is coming (mostly).

So I have some doubts about continuing, about reading the entire series. But there is the question of now that I’ve started, I want to finish. And the books are much richer than the TV show, which is great, so I do really enjoy the books. I’ve also made a deal with my boyfriend, who has read the entire series and is eagerly waiting for me to do so, that every other book I read will be ASOIAF… admittedly it was made on a night out, but I do plan to stand by it.

So I won’t be posting any reviews until I’ve at least finished A Clash of Kings – but does anyone really need to read another review of it? I’ll post my thoughts on GoodReads, briefly, but I’m not sure I’ll write a whole review. I’ve just got to plan what to read next!! I have committed to doing TBR20, so I’ve got a relatively small selection to choose from… but that won’t make it any easier!

In Praise Of: Sad Stories

When we learn about trauma, we also learn about catharsis, about ‘getting it out’ and finding closure. About having a cathartic experience. This is why we read books about war and suffering, why survivor testimonies are always popular books in whatever form they may take – from the wonder of writers like Primo Levi, to the tawdriness of abuse memoirs. We read sad stories out of curiosity, out of a desire to know how bad things can be in order to appreciate the true goodness of our own lives. We need to remember that it can always be worse, that there are and were a lot of people a lot worse off than us. But, we must not be negative, we must not focus on sad things to the point that they bring us down and we see sadness in everything.

I chose to praise sad books in this post partly because I have realised that a lot of the books I read have sad stories. One in particular that I read very recently was a memoir by journalist Emma Brockes in which she investigates her mother’s dramatic life after her death. She Left Me the Gun has been described as a misery memoir, unfortunately, but that was not what it was for me. For one thing I started reading it without any knowledge of the darkness it held, and I was not in any way intrigued or scandalised by the disturbing nature of the revelations.

(Faber 2014 cover. Image: goodreads.com)
(Faber 2014 cover. Image: goodreads.com)

It is a very intelligently written book, a woman taking the time to examine her mother’s life and the history of that part of her family, and to lay it all out before her like a jigsaw – to piece it together and see a whole. But Emma Brockes does not dwell on negativity or unpleasant memories. She recounts everything as unfortunate matter-of-fact, as ‘this is what happened’ and little else. She of course examines its ramifications and the ways in which the suffering of the past has filtered into the present, but again it is not depressing or sensationalist. The fact that she is a journalist, and that it is her own family, means that she is very respectful and never veers towards vulgarity or luridness. She takes everything as it appears to her and rationally recounts it to her readers in a way that is not heavy-handed or grim.

Though I didn’t enjoy learning of her family’s pain I did enjoy She Left Me the Gun for the fact that Emma Brockes’ mother had an incredible life, and she tells it wonderfully. I learned about South Africa, and the difficulties of coming to England, and I read charming and funny anecdotes about family life, and I liked Emma Brockes and her mother very much. All life has sadness in it, and to deny it is to be unrealistic. So there is nothing wrong with reading sad stories, and they can be read out of something other than morbid curiosity – but most importantly, for me, ‘sad stories’ contain so much more than sadness. Often they serve to highlight the areas of life without sadness, the happiness and light that we so need. We must experience the sadness in order to be able to say, as at the end of She Left Me the Gun, ‘enough now.’

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She Left Me the Gun was published by Faber & Faber (UK paperback) in February 2014.

More Than A Daughter: The Problem With Simplifying Women

I recently read a book called The Undertaker’s Daughter. It is the memoir of a woman, Kate Mayfield, whose father was indeed an undertaker. She grew up in a ‘funeral home’, as they call them in the States, and was thought of for a long time as the daughter of the undertaker and not much else. Her exposure to death and the business of funerals at such a young age had a huge impact on her and played a significant role in some of her most formative experiences – so, it justifiably makes sense that she should call her memoir The Undertaker’s Daughter, as that was what she was for a long time. The memoir also only covers her time living with her family, before she grew up and became Other Things. (I also really enjoyed it, it’s a fantastic book – review soon)

(image: goodreads.com)
(image: goodreads.com)

But it is still another book called The Something’s Daughter. I’ve noticed a lot of these recently. Kate Mosse’s new book is called The Taxidermist’s Daughter. A quick GoodReads search throws up a huge list of similarly named books. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter; The Bonesetter’s Daughter; The Hangman’s Daughter; The General’s Daughter; Pandora’s Daughter; and that’s just from page one. There are 785 pages of books with ‘Daughter’ in the title. Granted they aren’t all the same format, but they all have the daughter as the subject. And this takes all agency away from that girl or woman. She is defined by someone else (a parent but not always a man) and her relationship to that person. It is instantly infantilising, whether that daughter is an adult or not. Defining a girl by her parentage is something we no longer do (generally) in the modern Western world – but here we are doing it on our book covers.

(image: goodreads.com)
(image: goodreads.com)

My problem with this trend is that is that it is incredibly limiting. Like Kate Mayfield, all women are daughters but they are also many other things. I am a daughter. When I think of myself that way I feel loved and happy, but I also feel very young and childlike (like how you revert to your childhood role when you’re alone with your family). I am a daughter, but I am also a sister and a cousin, a girlfriend and a friend; and a woman, an adult. I think the only time I was defined by my parents it was when I was too young to make my own decisions or know who I was.

Authors and publishers can call their books whatever they want, of course, but things catch on and become popular, and whatever sells is reproduced. The Something’s Daughter is a book trend like any other, but there seems to be a lot of it about at the moment. A lot more than any book entitled The Something’s Son. I searched for ‘son’ on GoodReads and got back a lot more pages of results (1066), but judging by the first few pages this is partly because ‘son’ is also part of a lot of other words, like ‘song’. While there appear to be lots of male characters defined as a son here, not so many are defined in connection to what their parent is. For example, instead of The Something’s Son, it looks like Son of Something is more common, which adds agency to the son, or Son with an adjective, like Prodigal or Seventh. Not quite the same as the daughter books. And certainly not such a noticeable trend. Wonder why that is.

It’s like the trend for faceless women on book covers. They drive me insane. Is she just lips and boobs and shoulders? Where are her eyes? I think the back of a woman’s head must be one of the most common images of a woman used on book covers. We get faceless men too, but not nearly as many. Another trend is books called The Girl Who… or The Girl With… which pretty much started with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and hasn’t gone away. Again, a girl being arbitrarily defined by something about her that crucially isn’t who she actually is. Lisbeth Salander is a lot of other things besides being a girl with a tattoo, a girl who played with fire, or who kicked the hornet’s nest. No one is just one thing, and titles like this over-simplify complex characters – most of whom happen to be women. Simplifying women makes them easy to understand and label, pigeonholes them into being just one facet of their personality. The problem with this is that when a woman is simplified, she is reduced, she loses agency and power, and she is contained. She is not allowed to expand and explore, to express and change. The complexity of the self is also reduced in these book titles (for both men and women).

(image: goodreads.com)
(image: goodreads.com)

For me at least, this highlights the problem of naming a book after a character. Using their name as the title makes sense, but picking one attribute of theirs as the title just reduces it to a movie poster. I appreciate that sometimes these titles are appropriate, but there are simply too many of them that are gendered – calling a book The Something isn’t nearly as problematic. It leaves things open to interpretation and reduces the significance of the person’s gender in defining who they are. So I hope that all these Daughter and Girl titles have had their day, along with the faceless women on the covers. They often put me off at first glance, though of course a lot of them are excellent books and are worth reading. But the importance of covers and titles should never be underestimated, and we need modernity and originality more than ever these days. So let’s see it!

In Praise Of

In the interests of my making my blog as varied and interesting as possible, and also to stop it from becoming what Kim Forrester recently called “ another (unpaid) marketing cog in the machine”, I have decided to start a new series – In Praise Of.

So what will I be praising? Firstly it won’t be just me, I want you to tell me what you think needs some praise, and I want YOU to write about it. I’ll be writing too, of course, and will be ‘curating’ the whole thing, making a few editorial suggestions for your posts and making sure they look beautiful.

Now, to the things being praised. The criteria are:

  • Something that is a bit niche or underappreciated
  • Things that most people seem not to like, or that get a lot of perhaps undue criticism – but that you think are great
  • Something overlooked in literary history

 

But, it could still be something that a lot of people love, that you want to shout about – this doesn’t have to be In Defense Of – this is Praise! Deserved praise!

Ahem.

This series will run every other Wednesday, and the first post will be up on 17th September. I would very much like to have several other writers/bloggers involved, so get in touch if you have something that you think needs some overdue attention drawn to it, or something that you just love that much. I want the posts to praise but also to explain why that praise is due and what it is that you get out of this thing that is so great.

 

Visit the Contact page to get in touch, and I look forward to hearing your suggestions!

 

Lizzi x

International Literacy Day and Why It Matters

Today (8th September) in International Literacy Day. This year’s theme is ‘Literacy and Sustainable Development’ –

Literacy is one of the key elements needed to promote sustainable development, as it empowers people so that they can make the right decisions in the areas of economic growth, social development and environmental integration. Literacy is a basis for lifelong learning and plays a crucial foundational role in the creation of sustainable, prosperous and peaceful societies.  [Quote from here]

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Literacy is one of those things that is very often taken for granted, mostly by people like us in First World countries with decent education systems. I for one have had a passion for literature almost all my life, and I cannot think of a world without it; indeed I can’t remember a time before I could read.

Our education system is at once brilliant and flawed. We are very lucky to have it, but it does not succeed in every instance. Children with dyslexia or any other kind of ‘reading disorder’ may take significantly longer to learn to read, or be confident with reading, than their peers with no impairments. This is of course something that can be handled by special teachers and tutors, and ensuring the child gets the right support and methods of learning. But what about children who have no disorders, but their school does not have the resources to ensure their reading abilities? This is where literacy becomes a wider problem that affects people who should have every opportunity to learn how to read and write.

The Independent today published this article in which they state that lack of resources, on the part of the schools but also the families, can mean that some children cannot read well even at age 11, which is utterly awful and ridiculous. The article points out that some families have fewer than 10 books at home and children are not encouraged to read outside of school – as someone who comes from a naturally bookish family this issue has always interested me. I always find it strange when people don’t have many books at home, or don’t read many themselves. Even if you are not ‘bookish’, and don’t feel passionate about literature, there will still always be a book out there for you, in some form. It doesn’t have to be difficult or long, or particularly fancy. Hell, I’d rather you read something like Dan Brown than nothing at all. Graphic novels are also probably a good way to get back into reading, if long books intimidate. Anyway, my point is that people need to want to read, and in order for that to happen they need to find something that appeals to them as well as learn the benefits of reading. Not only is it fun, you also learn new things, and it’s like exercise for your brain. It gives you a window on another world and therefore, I think, could potentially help to bring attention to lives different from yours and encourage curiosity and empathy.

It’s also a skill, something I never think about as it is like second nature to me. English Literature was my best subject at school, and the subject of my degree, and so I have taken it for granted that I can construct a good sentence and express myself. I can also analyse a text and understand what is being said to me. This comes partly from studying, but also from years of reading books that were a bit too difficult for me – that is, from challenging myself. I believe that when we are not challenged we do not learn. A lack, or low level, of literacy cannot be allowed to stagnate if it “will do” or “is good enough”. I’m not saying we must all be Literature students, but I am saying that we must all learn to appreciate our language in all its forms, and be able to express ourselves well. Learning to read and write correctly improves vocabulary and expression. It builds confidence, especially in children, and is a key skill in almost all professions. There is no downside to improving your reading and writing skills.

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This post was written in conjunction with Grammarly’s scheme to promote literacy. By writing this I am encouraging literacy and highlighting its importance, and a donation will be made in my name to the charity of my choice – which is The Book Bus. They work in the UK as well as Africa, South America, and Asia, to bring books and literacy to children.