Over the weekend, I had cause to be out in the world, among people, in an actual city. I even took several forms of public transport, alone and unchaperoned, and I managed to survive the ordeal intact.
In fact, it was rather fun.
Getting out like this is a big deal for me. When one is, as I am, living away from a major urban centre, and stymied not only by an inability to learn how to drive (all right, all right, so more like an unwillingness than an actual inability, but this will be the year, my friends. This will be the year I finally bite that particular bullet!) and also slightly financially embarrassed, getting around can be hard. But I had a friend who was home on a flying visit from a foreign clime (well, the UK. Not exactly Svalbard, but still. I don’t see him very often) and so efforts were made and trains were taken and streets were navigated, and everything worked out perfectly.
On the way home, I took a tram for part of my journey (I did this mainly because I think Dublin’s tram system is extremely cool, and I just wanted to take a short trip for fun. If you’re ever visiting that fair city, do try it). In my carriage was a lady travelling with her father and several of her children, and they were a thoroughly charming bunch.
Yes. All right. So I eavesdropped. It was hard not to. Don’t judge me.
Anyway. During the course of their conversation the lady and her son had a brief exchange, a version of which I have thoughtfully recreated for you below. I do not jest when I tell you that hearing it made my book-lovin’ heart swell, just a little.
Mum: ‘So, we went to the library last Saturday, didn’t we?’
Mum: ‘And how many books did we get out?’
Mum: ‘Five! And how many had you read by Sunday afternoon?’
Son: ‘Four. And a bit.’
Mum: ‘Four and a bit. And so then, what did we do?’
Mum: ‘We went back to the library on Wednesday, didn’t we?’
Mum: ‘And how many books did we get out that time?’
Mum: ‘And when had you read all of those?’
Grandfather: ‘Good lad. Good lad, yourself.’
I felt like cheering (even though it would have been inexcusably rude) or maybe just turning around and giving the kid a high-five. His mum was extremely proud of him, of course – my recreation of their dialogue doesn’t really get that across, maybe – and she wasn’t in any way complaining about all these library treks. She was prompting him to tell his granddad how good he was at reading, and it was brilliant to hear a whole family, over several generations, being so reading-positive and library-positive and praising a young person for being such a great reader. Particularly, of course, when that young person is a boy. Reading has a reputation as being something which appeals more to girls than to boys, which I think is a shame; any child who wants to read, regardless of gender, should be encouraged to do so. Of course. Also, libraries are underfunded and overstretched, and I was so pleased to hear about one family’s enjoyment of their local branch – though it did make me woefully guilty that I haven’t visited the one library I’m a member of in over three years.
Three years. There’s no excuse.
Anyway. Today’s mini-post is just to say ‘well done’ to that young man on the tram, and to every child who loves to read and who – like I used to – enjoys nothing more than taking five books out of the library and having them all read by the end of the following day, despite the fact that it leaves them bookless until the next trip (it’s strange how I never really learned the lesson to take books slowly and make them last – I do something similar with chocolate, funnily enough). It’s to say ‘well done’ to every parent and grandparent and guardian and aunt and uncle and older sibling and family friend who praises a child for reading and who encourages them to read. It’s to say ‘well done’ to the fantastic librarians (and, indeed, booksellers and teachers) who help children to find their next great read and who form the reading tastes and, as a result in some ways, the entire lives of the small people they come in contact with. It’s to say ‘well done’ to all the writers and illustrators out there who make books children love and which they want to experience, not just with their eyes but with their mind and their whole being. The books we read and love as children have such an impact on our adulthood, I firmly believe, and when we read as children it’s more immersive and complete than at any other time in our lives.
Sometimes, it can feel like reading is falling out of fashion. Games and apps and TV and YouTube and what have you seem to be replacing books in the lives of many young people, but I learned a lesson this past weekend. No matter how bad things seem, there will always be readers, and they are as committed and passionate now as they’ve ever been. Is it any wonder I skipped off that tram with a spring in my step?