Books are so much more than short-term pleasures - Daniella Theis

When I was around eight years old, I won first prize at a local reading competition in the small German town I grew up in.

I remember how proud I felt receiving a certificate for my ability to read out loud. The event followed years of practice and the overcoming of a minor speech issue I had as a child. What got me there was the support I previously received from my primary school teacher and my mum who continuously pushed me towards one thing: reading books.

Books bring so many benefits to children. Like in my case, studies have shown that reading books can support cognitive development in children and boost skills in writing and maths. According to Scottish Book Trust, reading in childhood can also have a huge impact on educational attainment and future wellbeing.

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Visitors are seen behind a pile of books on display at the booth of the Random House publishing house at the Leipziger Buchmesse book fair in Leipzig. Picture: SEBASTIAN WILLNOW/dpa/AFP via Getty Images

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Reading can also shape future careers, as the case of Graeme Armstrong – whose debut novel The Young Team was featured on The Times top ten bestseller list and is being developed into a drama series - has shown. The author, who grew up in Airdrie and was previously involved in a gang there, said it was reading Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting that changed his life and made him want to pursue a career in creative writing.

For me, my relationship with books, reading, and writing was not a linear one. When I started reading in school, I soon excelled. My primary school teacher recognised both how much reading was increasing my confidence and how much it meant to me. She soon started bringing in extra books from her personal collection to school for me to take home. My love for books continued for a couple years after starting high school but then – without the extra support – somewhat faded.

What changed my life was not a particular text or one book itself but reading as a whole. A few years ago, after dropping out of high school, I was working full-time in the service industry. However, after saving for a while, I was able to quit my two jobs and travel for a few months.

En route, I was gifted Paolo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage. Its previous owner described how much the book had “changed her life”. Ultimately, in a way, it did the same for me - although not in the same way fans of this self-awareness novel often claim. Away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life back home, I had regained something I didn’t feel I had before: time. I finished the book in two days and swapped it for another, continuing the cycle as I moved along. Those months I rediscovered my love for reading and writing – so much so, that I was inspired to go to night school to get the grades I needed to go to university and study journalism and creative writing.

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Daniella Theis. Picture: Contributed

Now, I had the privilege not only of getting supported as a child but finding the time to rekindle my love for books as an adult. For that I will forever be grateful. Without books – and those encouraging me on my journey towards them – I don’t think I would be where I am today, making writing my career.

However, it is important to remember that this is not the case for everyone. There are stark inequalities within our society when it comes to accessing culture and cultural education. A report by the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence centre revealed that class-based exclusion is more pronounced in the creative industries than in any other industrial sector. Future success, the report states, is heavily influenced by childhood experiences, access to cultural resources, as well as contacts and role models in the creative sector. Therefore, to create a fair and more equal society, access to culture and cultural education must be exactly that - fair and equal.

That is why initiatives such as the Scotland on Sunday Christmas appeal with Scottish Book Trust are so important. Providing books to families who are depending on food banks and community hubs over the festive season and supporting children who do not have books at home might not solve all issues the creative sector or children from lower socio-economic backgrounds are facing, but they are a step in the right direction.

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Moreover, we need to support schools and libraries who are already working hard to provide access to books as well as supportive environments in which children and young adults can thrive creatively and find books they enjoy reading. Access, paired with support and encouragement, is what will hopefully make reading for leisure a hobby achievable for everyone.

Books are so much more than short-term pleasures. They are treasure troves that page by page and over time mould those that read them. At the most basic level they give a break from everyday life and let readers enter a different world of imagination. Beyond this they inspire, they encourage, and they solidify skills. They shape futures and career choices.

These benefits should be available to all – no matter their background. Every child in Scotland deserves access to the wonderful world of books.

Daniella Theis is editor-in-chief of the University of Strathclyde’s Telegraph. She was named Student Journalist of the Year at the Scottish Press Awards 2021

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