Is there anything good about lockdown? On a cold grey winter Monday morning, the answer for most of us is a definite NO. However, there has been one positive development for many of us. We are reading more books.
This is a small step in the right direction. Britain has some unusual reading behaviours in its population. For starters, British kids, despite the fantastic proliferation of children’s and young adult fiction, do not like to read. In Russia, 46% of children say they like to read. Similar percentages say the same thing in nearby Ireland. In Britain, only 35% of young people claim they like to read. In the United States, younger people read more than older people. Indeed, reading books is much more popular there in the 16-24 age group than it is in the over 80s. In the UK, the reverse seems to be the case. With the over 65s averaging about 12 books a year. Everywhere in the world, one pattern is clear, women read, on average, more than men. The gap is about the same as it the pass rate gap between boys and girls at GCSE. This may be entirely accidental. It is certainly interesting.
Lockdown means we are reading more books and according to one survey have doubled our reading from about three hours a week on average to six. What an opportunity a combination of winter, lockdown and the lingering effects of video game exhaustion from the first lockdown has presented! From a purely academic point of view, reading books is strongly correlated to academic success. An important OECD study in 2012 found that the enjoyment of reading is a more important factor in academic success than parental socio-economic or educational background. This seems to indicate that finding something you enjoy reading is just as important as reading itself. Simply writhing or battering your way through a book you dislike is not fruitful, but reading for pleasure certainly is. Lockdown is reasserting the validity of the insight attributed to Cicero: if you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.