The Crime Readers' Association

Reading: A Specialist Activity

22nd January 2014

David Stuart Davies writes:

Reading books is becoming a specialist activity no longer enjoyed by the general public, writer Ruth Rendell has warned.

The crime novelist and peer said reading is no longer an everyday pastime for most people, a change that she said would horrify anyone who loves books.

Her warning was echoed by Man Booker-nominated writer Philip Hensher, who said adults no longer feel embarrassed to admit they do not read novels.

Baroness Rendell, best known for her Inspector Wexford mysteries, said it was now possible to observe clearly the down-turn in popularity of literature. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s arts programme Front Row she said: ‘We are told that it isn’t happening but it is – reading is no longer something that everyone does as a matter of course. Reading is becoming a kind of specialist activity that strikes terror into the heart of people who love reading.’ Mr Hensher agreed, telling the Daily Telegraph: ‘I can see that is the direction it’s going in. Obviously millions of people read books every year but for the first time it is being treated as though if it were a minority activity.’ Hensher went on to say: ‘You can see people don’t see the necessity to read; they are not ashamed that they don’t read.’

Last month education watchdog Ofsted said that schools needed to set aside more time for pupils to read widely for pleasure. However, a recent study found that 17 per cent of children, far from being ashamed of not reading, would be embarrassed if their friends saw them doing so. The figures also revealed a sharp decline in the number of school children who choose to read in their own time out of school. The 2012 research by the National Literacy Trust found that only three in ten children aged 8 to 16 read every day in their own time, compared to four in ten in 2005.

What are your views?

This piece originally appeared in Red Herrings – the bulletin of the Crime Writer’s Association and was based on an article by Vanessa Allen in a recent edition of the Daily Mail.

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