The importance of reading fiction

The easiest way to make sure that we raise literate children, is by showing them that reading is a pleasurable activity

20 January 2017, 12:49pm
We have an obligation to read aloud to our children, to read to them things they enjoy, to read to them stories we are already tired of, to do the voices, to make it interesting
We have an obligation to read aloud to our children, to read to them things they enjoy, to read to them stories we are already tired of, to do the voices, to make it interesting
If you know someone who questions the importance of reading fiction, just show them this article. Nothing else needs to be said.

So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. I’m going to passionately explain that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do.

For the sake of clarity, I am biased, because I’m an author, often an author of fiction. I mainly write for adolescents and teenagers. Last November, my first novel entitled ‘The Wave’ was published by Faraxa Publishing.

I have a dream, that one day… I will be earning my living through my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction. 

So I’m biased as a writer, but I am much, much more biased as a reader.

Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway to reading. The drive to know what happens next. To want to turn the page. The need to keep going, because someone is in trouble, and you have to know how it’s all going to end. It forces you to learn new languages, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading is, by itself, pleasurable. Once you learn that, you can read everything. 

The second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from words and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world, and look at it through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise visit. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own dimension, you’re going to be slightly changed. Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as a society and not as self-centred individuals. You’re also finding out something as you read, vitally important for making your way in the world. It’s this: The world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different. 

We have an obligation to make things better, beautiful. Don’t leave the world uglier than we found it.

Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you have visited other worlds, you can never be entirely satisfied with the world you grew up in. Dissatisfaction is good: People can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different. 

We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read to them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices. To make it interesting. Use reading time as bonding time. As time when no phones are being checked. When the distractions of the world are put aside. 

The easiest way to make sure that we raise literate children, is by showing them that reading is a pleasurable activity, and that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read.

We writers – and especially writers for children, but all writers – have an obligation to our readers. It’s the obligation to write true things, even when we are creating tales of people who do not exist, in places that never were – to understand that truth is not in what happens, but in what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth. We have an obligation not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages.

We all – adults and children, writers and readers – have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It’s easy to pretend that nobody can change anything. It’s easy to pretend that we live in a world in which society is huge, and the individual is less than nothing, but the truth is, individuals change their world over and over. Individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.

Look around you. I mean it. Pause for a moment and look around the room that you are in. I’m going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. It’s this: That everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground, and imagined the chair. This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city exists because, over and over and over, people imagined things. They daydreamed, they pondered, they made things that didn’t quite work, and they described things that didn’t yet exist to people who laughed at them.

I hope we will give our children a world in which they can read, understand, imagine and create.

Kirsten Spiteri, Bormla

Extremist protectionism for swans

It is commonplace for swans to interact and be fed by the public yet, though to the Maltese public this is a rarity, it has now even been officially banned
It is commonplace for swans to interact and be fed by the public yet, though to the Maltese public this is a rarity, it has now even been officially banned
We refer to the public access to the swans being denied on the instructions of the Wild Birds Regulation Unit. It is indeed ironic that out of all the wild swans throughout Europe and elsewhere “Malta’s” swans need a police escort and their temporary roost made inaccessible to anyone wanting to enjoy them closely. It is commonplace for swans to interact and be fed by the public yet, though to the Maltese public this is a rarity, it has now even been officially banned.

This inexplicable official decision results after the belated involvement of BirdLife Malta four days after the birds’ appearance in Gozo.

BirdLife Malta now dictates the enjoyment of birds by all and sundry and influences official reactions to such incidents. Judging by the number of people visiting this temporary roost and the countless photos and videos taken of this spectacle no other event involving birds enjoyed such popularity. Yet it all has been denied by extremist protectionism.

Why, once these birds are perfectly safe, confirmed by veterinaries to be free from stress and being totally unconcerned by the public’s presence, does the WBRU have to endorse and enforce such extremist ways is beyond us. Indeed we still have a small problem with hunting illegalities but even when this is not the case we have to turn this rare spectacle into a perfect paranoid scenario of “only in Malta” on the “expert” advice of BirdLife Malta.

As for BirdLife’s advice on feeding bread being detrimental or even life threatening, perhaps what the RSPB say in this respect http://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/bird-and-wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/m/muteswan/feeding.aspx might highlight their extremist alarmism: “Many people like feeding bread to swans and while this is unlikely to do them any real harm in the long term, it is no substitute for the proper diet that the birds themselves will seek out.”

This is a far cry from BirdLife Malta’s publicity stunt given the full support of the WBRU. In the short term anyone feeding these birds bread or any other suitable food is definitely the only reason for their remaining here until BirdLife Malta realized their obligation of doing something for Malta’s birds. Had this not been the case they would have definitely died of starvation.

Mark Mifsud Bonnici, Kaccaturi San Ubertu