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Opinion & Analysis

The joy of books

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was to “read and travel”. It’s the same advice I pass on when asked.

My niece Aimee, who is in Middle School, has been telling me about a recent shopping trip. She did so with a huge sense of excitement, showing me a number of presents. Her bag included books! I have to admit I almost fell off my chair. At a time when everything is on a laptop or phone it was surprising, but very pleasing to see her with books in her hand and taking such a keen interest. She then went on, just as eager, to show me her costume for World Book Day.

Today our Facebook feeds will be full of children dressed up as wonderful and colourful book characters. It’s a marvellous initiative.

I think World Book Day is hugely important - not just as a celebration of books, but as a way to encourage younger readers, inspire them with ideas and show them that books are fun and matter so much.

The John Mackintosh Hall is holding a series of events today which include a Book Fair and Book Crossing event, plus the chance to take a selfie on their book armchair. It's great to see so much happening on this day.

This week I’ve taken time to talk to someone who surrounds themselves with books for a living. I’ve been speaking to Award Winning Author Lucy Atkins, who was in Gibraltar for the 2014 Literary Festival.

Author of The Other Child (2015) and The Missing One (2014), Lucy is a literary critic for The Sunday Times. Her latest book The Night Visitor will be out in May this year.

The Night Visitor new quote

I asked her why reading was important. She said: “Reading allows you to detach from the world, from technology and all the demands and frantic distractions and enter into an entirely new imaginative space. This is not just good for your brain, it’s actually life enhancing, it feeds the soul. And surely we all need a bit of that!”

Unfortunately, it seems children read less and less, this is a view shared by the author who says it’s “sad”. It’s not only the education system that has a responsibility to promote reading, parents play a vital role.

Lucy said: “It is hard work, as a parent, to keep your child reading when books are competing with so many more immediate, instant pleasures online. My older two children stopped reading when they got iPhones…so I’ve learned to be strict. My almost 13 year old son would always choose screen over book, but I take his phone away at 9pm and so he still reads for an hour or more a night. He complains that I’m the worst parent in the world, but he still devours book after book. I think it’s up to parents to do whatever we can to keep children interested and reading and sometimes that means taking away the screen. That’s why World Book Day matters - it shows children that there is huge pleasure to be had offline, on the page.”

A study by Microsoft a couple of years ago concluded the age of the smartphones has seen the ability of humans to multitask improve but has left us with a shorter attention span than that of a goldfish!

So, is reading even more important today? “I think this is the joy of reading books - a book gives you a place to go for longer periods and this is the antidote to the stressful, stimulating tweeting and social media that’s going on 24/7,” says Lucy Atkins.

She adds that interestingly, many of the best known authors, particularly in America, are producing really huge novels at the moment so she thinks “the appetite for immersion is, if anything, stronger than ever before. We are craving something deeper - and books give us that.”

And it doesn’t matter if its print or e-book. With print books doing better than kindle these days it’s a promising prospect.

Reliable scientific studies also show that reading is a highly effective form of stress relief.

“We are all stressed out much of the time - children and teenagers, particularly, have never been so anxious and overwhelmed by school and social pressures.”

Today, World Book Day immerse yourself in a good book and let your imagination carry you away. Because as Lucy Atkins says: “In an age where hatred and bigotry are on the rise, books can be a vital window into other cultures, other lives - they open doors and break down barriers. We need that now more than ever.”

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