Thursday, 19 February 2015

Reading: more or less?

Cafebrería el Péndulo in Mexico City, Mexico, via Aquiles Carattino. CC BY-MC 2.0.jpg

World Book Day, set up by UNESCO in 1995 to promote reading, publishing and copyright, takes place in the UK in two weeks’ time, on 5 March. In our own celebration of books, we are inviting NEC learners to take part in The Reading Agency’s Six Book Challenge, encourage a friend, neighbour or some-one in their family to sign up, to promote the challenge where they work, and to try out some new ways of reading and talking about books.

The lure of sharing photographs with Facebook friends can be more appealing than the pull of a political memoir. Some of us would rather sit on the sofa chatting on Skype than tackle a 500-page family saga. Around one in six adults in the UK – 5.2 million people – have the reading age expected of an 11-year old. Research from the National Literary Trust last year found that only half of children in the UK read print-based stories every day with their parents. By 2016, it is estimated that around 1,000 public libraries – a fifth of the number there were in 2011 – will have closed their doors. Is reading under threat?

It appears not. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that many of us are greedy readers. In the ten years between 2003 and 2013, the value of book sales in the UK increased from £2,591 million to £3,389 million, figures which since 2008 have included e-books. Literary festivals are so numerous that you could travel the country attending a different one on just about every day of the year. A poll for YouGov at the beginning of last year found that, closures notwithstanding, about half of us have a ticket for our local public library and use it.

There are plenty of ways to develop your own reading habits, whether or not you have access to a library. Goodreads is full of recommendations and suggestions, and includes reader reviews. You can also join a virtual bookgroup through the site, take part in chats with other members and post your own book reviews. If you have an e-reader, 46,000 titles are available to download free from Project Gutenberg, all of them previously published by bona fide publishers and now out of copyright.

To celebrate World Book Day, NEC has joined forces with The Reading Agency to support its annual Six Book Challenge, a scheme to inspire young people and adults to read more. Participants have to pick up six reads – not just books but poems, magazine articles and even digital games – and record their reading in a diary to receive incentives and a certificate. Running since 2008, 40,000 people signed up for the scheme last year through public libraries and their local partners, further education and sixth form colleges, prisons and workplaces.

This year, The Reading Agency is aiming for 50,000 people to take part. If you want to read more, or have friends, colleagues and neighbours you think would like to do the same, you can register for the 2015 Six Book Challenge at To buy print materials and incentives to promote the scheme where you work, visit

There’s a signed copy of Alan Johnson’s Please, Mr Postman, the second volume of the MP’s memoirs, for the first 10 people to enrol on NEC’s IGCSE in English Language or IGCSE in English Literature by World Book Day, 5 March. Please, Mr Postman won last year’s Orwell Prize, Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing. The 10 copies were kindly donated to the Cambridge Literary Festival and NEC by the book’s publisher Bantam Press.