You may have heard of the website Goodreads, a sort of social networking site for books. Well, for readers, obviously. It’s a place where you can review the books you’ve read, indulge in competitive rating of books with your friends (this loses interest rapidly but it was hilarious for about a week), and set yourself a reading target for the year. If you’re the competitive type.
Which I am.
Last year I missed my goal by a lot. I read about 150-250 books a year. Yes, that is excessive. I confidently typed in my goal of 250, completely neglecting to notice that it was already August. The measure of ‘reading’ a book is to have entered a review for it (which can be blank) with a date in that calendar year attached to it. This year when it came to July and I set my goal, I set it low. Every time the little widget tells me I’m 5 or 10% up on my current progress, I add some more books to the total goal. I’m at about 75 right now. I’m not sure why I bother, but it seems to be important to me for some reason.
Our esteemed Minister for Education has suggested that children should read 50 books a year – roughly one a week. I’m totally behind the ‘read a lot’ principle. It definitely helps you develop reading skills, and it also helps to develop writing skills (which is why every writer worth their salt tells aspiring writers to read, and read a lot). You learn what a sentence looks like by experiencing them. A lot.
But I’m not so sure that setting number goals is the way forward for kids. For one thing, it doesn’t necessarily encourage quality reading. I’m an adult, for crying out loud, and I still find myself deliberately whizzing through a book I should be enjoying, in order to carve that notch on the Goodreads’ site. And for those who don’t meet their goals, it can be completely dispiriting (witness it taking me to July to recover from the stop of not officially meeting my reading goal last year…). I can’t find the article that I read earlier in the year citing a school Head complaining that the reading challenge (based on number of books read) had had no impact on the school’s attainment figures at all. Not surprising, if you make reading instrumental and about completion rather than enjoyment and nourishment of the imagination.
I don’t know what the answer is. Reading is important, I know. Getting kids to read books is important. Reading with your kids is important. Letting them see you reading yourself is important. Books matter.