The Power of Reading

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I will read absolutely anything and everything: shampoo and conditioner bottles in the shower; recipes, even if I am not cooking; leaflets for gardeners and gutter cleaning services that have been posted through the letterbox; charity and beauty leaflets, Ts and Cs on adverts and even the credits at the end of TV shows and films (when they are not going at supersonic speed!)

Having previously been an English teacher, and a school librarian, I have had many a conversation with both students and adults alike as to what barriers they face when it comes to reading.

Time – or lack of it – is the most common answer. And that is an entirely valid reason. Lives are lived at a million miles an hour and with not nearly enough of those hours within the day. There is so much that is needed to be packed in with work, school, the commutes, relationships, caregiving, socialising, chores, shopping, exercising, sleeping, and every other thing that takes priority, that it is no surprise that the thought of sitting down and ignoring the never-ending to-do list is completely out of the question

In our current days and times of falling easily and helplessly down a social media scroll hole, our brains have been trained to crave screen time in small snatches. News headlines, party invitations, work emails, motions at our front door, notifications that our children are home safe and potential love matches ping us to attention for a few milliseconds, before we flit back to try and remember whatever we were doing previously. And then we hear the next ping, or buzz, or beep.

Personally, as much as I love the instant photos and the GIFs and memes that make me choke on my tea at my desk, it’s not long before my brain is irritated and overwhelmed. Each distraction is a pull on my time, or brain space, even if I don’t act immediately to the command on the screen, a bit of my mind is still whirring with:

‘What is that now?’ ‘Is it an emergency? ‘Am I missing out on something?’ ‘Who is that?’

Reading is the perfect counterpoint to the bombardment and chaos of modern day living. Don’t get me wrong, life is all good things too, but for most of us it is a full-on and head space filling experience.

So, time to myth bust!

Any reading is GOOD reading. You do not have to read broadsheet newspapers from cover to cover, War and Peace in its entirety, Shakespeare, arty farty poetry, or something from two centuries ago to enjoy the pleasure and benefits of reading. The most important thing is that you are reading something that interests you and/or something that you enjoy reading. Reading for pleasure means just that – so whether its Cosmo, the IKEA catalogue, a random pick up waiting for the doctor or the dentist, the most cheesily sickly sweet chick-lit, or your favourite online magazine (wink wink) just breathe and read.

It honestly will not take you long at all to feel and reap the benefits that reading for pleasure can offer. Six is the magic number. Six minutes, or a mere 360 seconds is all it takes for a plethora of wellbeing benefits to head your way through reading.

Research carried out by the University of Sussex found:

“After only six minutes of reading a book, the subjects’ stress levels were reduced by 68% compared to performing other activities such as listening to music (stress levels reduced by 61%), or taking a walk (stress levels reduced by 42%)”

University of Sussex, 2009

Reading also acts like mindfulness. To read you need to still your mind, breathe and focus only on the words. Reading keeps you and your mind perfectly anchored and, in the moment, if you just read one word after the next.

If time is not a barrier to picking up a book, then maybe reading ability, or a reading disability is.

Reading to me is like breathing; a haven and a sanctuary. I cannot remember a time when I could not read or did not enjoy reading and I feel like I am one of the lucky ones, although to some it is truly overwhelming.

If you are yet to see the BBC iPlayer documentary ‘Jay Blades: Learning to Read at 51’ then I implore you to take some time out and fill up your heart and soul with this man’s journey. His destination: to be able to read a story to his 15-year-old daughter.

He is not alone. There are approximately eight million adults in the UK who are struggling to read. Some of these adults have been diagnosed with dyslexia, or other information processing disorders that make reading nigh on impossible and incredibly difficult. Others may not be officially diagnosed but have happened to fall through the ‘learning to read’ net during their school years.

Being unable to read can cause people to feel stupid, guilty and ashamed when they should feel proud of their resilience, innovation and creativeness. Not only have they made it through this far not being able to read, but they have done it silently and with rarely anyone else knowing.

If you know or suspect that anyone close to you is struggling with reading, then please know that they are not alone and let them know that too. It is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. A whole new world is within their reach, and it is never too late to start.

In 2021, a lady of 104, in Kerala, India, learnt to read:

“I was always curious about what was happening around the world,” she said. “On many occasions I regretted my inability to read newspapers and I used to plead with the younger generations at home to read out newspapers to me. I always wanted to write my name and address.”

The Guardian, 2021

She now spends her days reading with her great grandchildren and eagerly awaiting the newspaper deliveries.

There is a wealth of help, support and information out there for anyone struggling to read or anyone who is supporting them. Some links are below for you to find out more information. Alternatively, please reach out to us here at AION via submissions@andinothernews.co.uk and we will gladly help you find the resources that you are looking for.

https://literacytrust.org.uk/parents-and-families/adult-literacy/

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