Thursday 22 February 2018

Playing the numbers game with books - It's not how many, nor how frequent, it's all about how much enjoyment you get from reading - A ReadItTorial

One of the things that's always worried me about being a book blogger, and having a book-blogging daughter is that sometimes the sheer number of books we read can lead to an interesting (but slightly worrying) pattern developing.

This week's ReadItTorial post was partially inspired by a Twitter conversation around what constitutes "A Matilda* level of book numbers read". There seems to be a belief that the more books a child packs in during a given year, the more successful they will be in other aspects of their life (particularly academic).

It's fair to say that a child who genuinely loves reading will definitely reap their own rewards at school. We quite often have some rather nice compliments paid to us about C's reading ability (and one of the positives from the Twitter conversation was hearing the same from other booky parents), and her sheer voraciousness for books.

We politely (and yes, sometimes rather smugly) smile, grateful that when our daughter is stuck for something to do, she'll reach for a book rather than an iPad, games controller or something else screen-based. We actually get a lot of negative comments about the amount (or lack) of screen time C gets. Usually at weekends when there's some dead time C will either catch up with comics, catch up with reading or opt to play a game on the iPad or games consoles but very rarely so, and she knows where the boundaries are and not to push against them (don't we sound like the most horrible hateful strict parents!)

Honestly though, normally the default is reading or books.

I get a slight tingle in the hairs on the back of my neck when I see folk professing that their child has read a 'phenomenal number of books'.

I keep a spreadsheet of the books we read and review through the blog, and most years the blog has been in existence I can honestly say that we have read AT LEAST 500 as the lower end of the scale, but sometimes on a good year we've cleared over a thousand. For want of a frame of reference, in 2017 we read, reviewed and wrote up over 700 books and that's just the stuff documented as part of our normal blogging schedule, that doesn't reflect older stuff we've re-read or stuff we've read but not reviewed.

The only reason we count at all is from a necessity to have some semblance of organisation around the blog. The spreadsheet I keep is a convenient way to keep track of what we've been sent, stuff we've reviewed (splitting picture book and chapter book sections so we can track each individually) or any blog tours etc that we're taking part in. Nothing more, and certainly not some "My child is better than yowrse" yardstick.

The point I'm getting to glacially slowly is that competing over 'numbers read' seems like a really odd thing to do, and fails to take into account that the types of reader vary greatly in children and adults.

For example, all three of us (my wife, C and me) all read at different speeds. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool speed reader (having previously learned speed-reading techniques to blast through huge thick technical manuals for Microsoft exams). Unable to switch this off, but able to blast through a decent sized paperback in a few nights or less. Always with a need to re-read books later on if they've piqued my interest enough and I feel I need a second or third pass.

My wife polishes off a fair-sized paperback in a week or just over. She can blast through most stuff fairly quickly, and has more staying power when it comes to books (I'll basically ditch a book if it starts to bore the pants off me, but she usually stays with them through hell and high water).

C can blat through middle grade chapter books in a single night or a couple of nights (which is very handy for the reviews), squeezing in other reading at breakfast, sometimes after school (homework permitting), mostly at weekends and always after we've read to her at night.

Some children will read slowly, savouring every single morsel on the page, almost to the point of wearing the print off. Some will (like C) read books incredibly quickly, or juggle several at a time (this is another nasty habit C has picked up from me but it's not exactly difficult to see why).

Then of course there's the other factor in the numbers game. If you proudly claim your child can get through more than 300 J.K Rowling / Deathly Hallows-sized books a year, that's definitely something of an achievement (and makes me wonder what the heck they do with the couple of hours they have spare every day, I'm assuming food is ingested, personal cleanliness is taken care of, perhaps they even go to school?)

But in all honesty, the end line for this ReadItTorial is that clamouring about numbers read, in the words of the great Shania Twain "Don't impress me much" - Now if you have genuine tales of your child intricately dissecting a book, its world, its characters and being able to passionately talk about that book in glorious detail, that's likely to impress both of us far more.

(* - Matilda the Roald Dahl book, of course!)