I recently came across two different pieces texts, which coincidentally had very similar themes and made a huge impression on me. The first was “Why be happy when you could be normal” by Jeanette Winterson.
I cannot believe it took me until I was 31 to finally pick up a book by Jeanette Winterson. She’s phenomenal! That’s absolutely no exaggeration. She’s one of the most powerful, honest and laugh-out-loud funny authors I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about this writer.
“Why be happy…” is a story of belonging and not belonging; of being on the outside and so desperately wanting to be on the inside; of adoption and birth; and of the importance and the pure joy of reading. A number of her ideas made an impression on me but none so much as how important reading is to a developing mind, for the sake of imagination and escape, and for recognising yourself through the voices of others and finding the paths to both self-acceptance and to empathy with others.
Winterson writes with such conviction about the impact reading had on her life and could have on the lives of others.
I had no one to help me, but the T. S. Eliot helped me. So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.
Coincidentally, I came across an article in the Guardian during the week on the same topic. It’s an edited version of a lecture that the writer Neil Gaiman gave during the week for The Reading Agency, a charity promoting access to books for everyone.
The lecture is a powerful case for the importance of reading, employing intelligent and emotional argument and dispelling ridiculous myths (the idea that there are “good” books and “bad” books for children for example. This also rankles me, judging as it does my own reading choices. For crying out loud, if your children are devouring JK Rowling in their spare time, they’re using imagination, exercising their cognitive ability and most importantly READING!! Don’t replace that with more “worthy” literature which may have the impact of putting them off reading altogether! My “junk food” reading sits easily beside my classic literature on my bookshelves and has in no way affected my critical ability!)
Read Gaiman’s case and make up your mind for yourself!