Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

When I was in Indonesia, I rarely saw people reading in public. The local library was dead closed and anyway there weren’t many libraries or even bookstores around. The closest ones were in my university campus. University libraries or bookstores aren’t really focused on promoting reading for pleasure.

Neil Gaiman, world-known and highly awarded British writer is suggesting that:

reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do.

Neil Gaiman
© Pinguino k, Flickr

Today, I’d like to write about the lecture Neil Gaiman gave few days ago for British charity organisation Reading Agency, which promotes reading, as they believe reading can change the lives of people (like getting out from unemployment). Thanks to British newspaper, The Guardian, everybody can read why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming – an edited version of Neil Gaiman’s lecture. It’s a long read, but worth it. Even longer when you read the comments.

For those who don’t have the time to read, I chose some quotes which I think are interesting or important. Click “Continue reading” to read them.

I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure. It’s not one to one: you can’t say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

That’s a scary idea, there’ll be more crimes when people won’t read… for pleasure. Why is that? Read Gaiman’s lecture. The explanation is too long to quote here.

It’s obvious  now that children should read? But what? Neil Gaiman has an opinion about that too.

I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children’s books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. (….) It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. (….) Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you. (…) We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy.

Neil Gaiman also shares an anecdote from his trip to China. That story backs up the reason that reading books can change the life (and the world) and why reading books is important. It’s seems it’s important also for the country.

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Wow, that’s something. Reading fiction books can help the country’s economy and let the country be more innovative. Go, get some books for your child, younger siblings or children in the family! It’s important because:

Another way to destroy a child’s love of reading, of course, is to make sure there are no books of any kind around. And to give them nowhere to read those books.

I never thought about it this way. I had books at home, libraries around so I never had a problem to get something to read. I even developed a bad vision because of reading all the books, also during at night, when I was supposed to sleep.

Libraries are nowadays in some of the countries closed to make some savings. But it’s not a wise idea. Libraries have important mission:

(…) libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information. (….) Libraries are places that people go to for information. Books are only the tip of the information iceberg: they are there, and libraries can provide you freely and legally with books. More children are borrowing books from libraries than ever before – books of all kinds: paper and digital and audio. But libraries are also, for example, places that people, who may not have computers, who may not have internet connections, can go online without paying anything: hugely important when the way you find out about jobs, apply for jobs or apply for benefits is increasingly migrating exclusively online. Librarians can help these people navigate that world. (….) A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it. (….) It’s a community space. It’s a place of safety, a haven from the world.

As Neil Gaiman says we have several obligations:

  • to read for pleasure in private and public;
  • to support libraries (also meaning to protect libraries from closure);
  • to read aloud to our children;
  • to use the language;
  • for writers to write the truth (which tell us who we are);
  • for writers of children books to understand and acknowledge that they are doing important work;
  • for writers to daydream;
  • to make things beautiful;
  • to tell our politicians what we want, to vote against politicians of whatever party who do not understand the value of reading in creating worthwhile citizens, who do not want to act to preserve and protect knowledge and encourage literacy.

The most important obligation, in my opinion, is the last one. Living in democratic countries, we need to make our politicians what we want. I don’t want the people in my country to be less and less intelligent nor have more crimes in the country or it being a country just for workers, not creators. And you?

The last quote that is summing up everything is a quote from Albert Einstein that Gaiman used during the lecture.

Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. “If you want your children to be intelligent,” he said, “read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.

Did my quotes got you interested in the full Gaiman’s lecture? Do you think there are more important quotes I should use? What quote is most important for you? Do you agree with Gaiman? Is there any topic related to libraries, books, daydreaming which you would like to discuss? Tell us what you think in comments.

Do you read for pleasure? Do you read your children or cousins? Do you talk with your family about books? Is your family reading books for pleasure? Share it with us in the comments.

And… enjoy reading for pleasure!

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6 thoughts on “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming”

  1. I also never thought that no books of any kind and give children nowhere to read those books can destroy they love of reading. Just like you I had easy access to books I want to read since my father is a bookworm too. And I completely agree with Gaiman there is no such a thing as a bad book for children. My mom once said to my little sister (kind of push her, to be honest) that she would really love to see her reading books that related to her school than see her reading comics. Guess what? she didn’t read comics now, she even said doesn’t like to read for pleasure anymore!

    1. That’s not a good thing to say, what your mother said. 😦 Did you show them both Gaiman’s lecture? 😀 A lot of people don’t like comics, and as a fan of manga (and other comics), I know it well. But I know reading comics is good. Especially the longer series. It’s hours and hours of reading! Hopefully, later the comic readers will switch to books (at least graphic novels). I know I was reading a lot of books and comics in my childhood.

      I’m using comics also as a way to learn various languages. And anyway, comics can help you learn geography, history, different cultures, etc. Hmmm… Maybe I should write about why it’s good to read comics. 😉

      Did you know about Neil Gaiman & Yoshitaka Amano collaboration? The Sandman: The Dream Hunters. That’s a beautifully illustrated short story. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sandman:_The_Dream_Hunters

      1. My mom rarely read for pleasure, I’m the only one in the family (aside my father) who loves reading. So I don’t think she understand how important it is. Since I know reading can be fun I always encourage my siblings to love reading. Read everything they want to read in order to grow their passion for reading. I used to buy 2 to 3 comics a month for my little sister when I knew she loves it. But then she didn’t want it anymore, it’s about 5 years ago, I think. Now every time I asked her to accompany me to book fair she always said she doesn’t like reading anymore 😦

        I rarely read comics, it was kind of confused me, you know which one I should read first kind of confusion 😀 but I read it once in a while when I was a child since my best friend kept talking how awesome comics are 🙂 and yes, I actually love it, just like you said I learn a lot of things from it, especially Japanese culture since I read manga. I even learn the planets and the universe from Sailor Moon series! It’s one of my favorites and I still have it, by the way 🙂

        I once saw The Sandman on one of bookstores here. It’s so beautiful I really want to buy but it costs me fortune. But I didn’t know whether it’s his collaboration with Yoshitaka Amano or not.

        1. How many people are in your family? In my, it’s 3 – me & my parents, and sadly they don’t read books either. But I heard, in the past they read. I can’t miss out any book fairs. 😀

          She rarely reads for pleasure? All the more reasons to show her Gaiman’s lecture! Or translate some parts for her and your sister. 😉

          I was surprised to see how many book adaptations are in cinemas. Jokowi, Habibie & Ainun, Dee’s books. How about trying to give them a book that was inspiration for the film etc.? I’m not sure about the age of your sister, but maybe you’d read a short story together? Don’t give up, you can’t force them, but try to get them interested in another way. There are many “why you should read” arguments.

          For me the best Sailor Moon series was S, Super S and Stars. Because of Stars, the Outer Sailors and Mistress 9. 😉

          A lot of comics in Indonesia, it’s hard to decide what to read, I agree. I was reading “Have a Good Night” (for adults) or started reading a comic on Makko.com (Indonesian comics by Indonesian authors ;)). I’m going to read a first volume of Garudayana (I bought the new version, and only 1st volume was in the stores before my departure T.T).

          Unfortunately the books in English are very expensive in Indonesia. Too bad. I wanted to buy some Indonesian books in English to get here, but 150.000 or 200.000 Rp for a short book was too much even for me.

          Btw, I have that Sandman at home. I got it once as a Christmas present, bought at British Amazon. 😉

          1. I’m the oldest of 4, my little sister who used to love reading is in sophomore year in university now. She stop reading for pleasure when she was in junior high school (SMP). There will be Indonesia book fair next month, I can’t wait for it, it’s been a while since I went to book fair.

            My mom read Ainun & Habibie after she saw the movie, can you believe that she asked my sister to read it too? I guess she didn’t realize of what she said years ago to her. I don’t think I will give up trying to make my siblings love to read. One of my ways is give them books for their birthday present. I gave my other sister who loves to cook, Jamie Oliver’s authography for one of her birthday presents. She loved it and now I often see her reading chicklit 🙂

            Hey, I don’t know that there are many different kind of Sailor Moon. I only have the original one, if I can say it so. The one with 18 books in the serie. What’s the difference, by the way? I better check them out soon!

            Yes, books in English are expensive here. I prefer buy it from online bookstore such as TBD or Fishpond. But there aren’t many Indonesian books in English either, I think. I haven’t read The Sandman yet 😦 I swear I really want to have The Sandman that I saw at Times Bookstore! There are many Gaiman books I haven’t read, though.

            Btw, When did you go home? It seems you still know Indonesia well.

            1. Good job with those presents! 🙂

              Yes, there is just one comic series, but it was divided into different anime series. Sailor Moon S starts with the introduction of Sailor Pluto & Co, I think.

              I always bought from stores, not online, so I don’t know them. I need to check if they send abroad. 😉 I didn’t read all the Gaiman books either. 😉 But I don’t think I have to. 😛

              I came back to Poland in the end of July 2013. 😛

              Will you make a blog post about the fair? With some photos too? I’m interested in reading about that. 🙂

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