Skip to content ↓

Bury yourselves in a good book (or two)

Today another half-term of remote schooling comes to an end. The entire school community can be extremely proud of what has been achieved over the past five and a half weeks.

Next week’s holiday is a valuable and deserved opportunity for the boys to recharge and spend some much-needed time away from their screens. Sadly, the ongoing restrictions mean that they won’t be going far and much of this time is likely to be spent at home. It will be all too easy for them to fill much of it gaming, watching television, surfing the internet, or on social media. I urge them to resist this temptation, to make the most of the opportunity to get outside and enjoy the permitted opportunity for daily exercise.  I also encourage them to read, not from a screen but to bury themselves in a good book.

Every Christmas and birthday I receive lots of books. Although I occasionally receive other more valuable presents they are always the presents I look forward to the most. Particularly when I receive a book that is new to me, something I hadn’t heard of, a book that someone has chosen because they have enjoyed it and think I would too. 

This Christmas was no different. Among the titles I received were;

The intriguingly titled An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth; Life Lessons from Space by Chris Hadfield, from our Pastoral Support Manager Mrs Wilson. This has already yielded an assembly and there are many more where that came from!

The Lonely Planet for Great Britain from my partner. This could prove very useful, I’m afraid we’re unlikely to be holidaying abroad for the foreseeable future!

The latest Matthew Syed book The Greatest; What Sport Teaches Us About Achieving Success.

A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul from my Mum and Dad. I say my Mum and Dad but, I’m not sure how much my Dad really contributed! Also, from Mum was my current read; Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

The past few weeks haven’t seen much progress in my ‘battle’ against the pile of unread books that sit on a couple of shelves in my study, but I have a major ‘offensive’ planned for next week and I’m really looking forward to it!

I love reading and always have done. I distinctly remember childhood trips to Leamington Library, not the new one but the old one at the bottom of town that is now a block of luxury flats, some of you may remember it. Particularly memorable were the trips that took place before the annual family holiday in the summer. My sister and I would both borrow the maximum ten books, which we would then spend the entire two weeks in France devouring. The trip to the airport branch of WHSmith, when I give myself 15mins to choose two books that I will read on holiday is a hangover from this childhood ritual and an important part of any trip abroad.

Particular childhood favourites were the adventure novels of Willard Price, the Famous Five anything by Roald Dahl, and a book called the The Pirates of the Deep Green Sea which had been my father’s favourite when he was a boy.

The sheer joy of escaping into a good book and being absorbed in a story that is not your own is the fundamental reason for reading fiction. We all have a uniquely valuable role in life. But many of us, even if satisfied with that role, often wonder what it would be like to live in a different place, work at a different job, or even be a completely different person. For brief moments of time, books release us from the constraints of our own reality. They take us beyond our world and into someone else’s real or imaginary one. They satisfy the curiosity of the elusive “What if?”

Of course, reading brings numerous other benefits. Countless studies have established the mental health benefits of reading. The intellectual benefits are also huge. Reading improves brain connectivity, increases your vocabulary and comprehension and improves attainment in all subjects. Reading has also been shown to have physical health benefits too; reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and heart rate and preventing cognitive decline as you age. Reading can also be an aid to sleep.

Uju Asika the author of Bringing Up Race who spoke to the Foundation before Christmas wrote, ‘books will save the world because they allow you to see the world through someone else’s eyes.’ In what is an increasingly fractured world perhaps this is the greatest benefit of reading. Reading empowers you to empathise with other people and to realise that your view is only one of many different perspectives.  When you experience life through the eyes of another, you encounter diverse angles on life’s most common situations. Talented authors will naturally inspire empathy for their characters and empathising with viewpoints different from your own can feel uncomfortable. While reading doesn’t mean that you’ll agree with different perspectives. It does offer you the opportunity to understand them. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was an advocate of perspectivism. Perspectivism is a metaphysical position arguing that there is no objective truth, only different perspectives. The value of which depends on the holder’s awareness of the fact that their view is simply one of many different vantage points and ‘truth’ is a product of understanding as many of them as possible.

My current read Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of short stories written by the Pulitzer Prize winning American author of Bengali descent Jhumpa Lahiri.  These stories explore the heart of family life and the immigrant experience. As well as being beautifully written and a pleasure to read they have given me an appreciation of the sense of loss and dislocation experienced by many immigrants. But what shines forth from her writing, even more powerfully is the sense of a common humanity shared by people from all cultures.

If reading fiction can help us to see the world through the eyes of others and realise that our perspective is merely that, a perspective rather than an objective truth then perhaps there is the promise of a brighter future and a more united world.

Hopefully the boys will choose to spend some of half term reading. If they do and I sincerely hope that is the case, then our Head of English Miss Hill and the school’s Librarian Mrs Devouge-Bernard have spent some time compiling recommendations from pupils and staff, which I shared in an assembly at the start of term.

Mrs Jacka recommends the Guest List by Lucy Foley a gripping murder mystery full of plot twists. Mr Willis’ recommendation is the Rodchenkov Affair an expose of the doping in Russia’ elite sport. Mr Stone’s choice is the Places in Between by Rory Stewart, a moving sparsely poetic account of the author’s walk across Afghanistan. Mr Walker spent Christmas re-reading the cold war black-comedy Our Man in Havana by one of my favourite writer’s Graham Greene. Miss Hill’s recommendation is In True Blood by Truman Capote, in her opinion the best true crime writing there is.

Pupil suggestions include a couple of my favourites and books that have featured in past assemblies; Matthew Syed’s Black Box Thinking and Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and I would personally endorse these recommendations.

Recommendations here to suit any taste and there are many more, some of which can be found in our academic enrichment booklet, 'Floreat'. But if your son is ever stuck for something to read, then please do encourage them to contact Mrs Devouge- Bernard, I know that she would love to provide them with some more suggestions.

Thank you all for your ongoing support over the past half-term I hope you have an enjoyable break and I hope that you spend some of it is spent reading.