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National Author’s Day

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” - Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

It’s National Author’s Day, and on a day to celebrate the people that bring us the books that can change our lives, Way out West look at the benefits of reading, how to become a good reader, and what the great authors themselves have to say about it.

When it comes to approaching a book, it’s important to dive straight in. Although reading is something we do almost constantly in our everyday life, through magazines, newspapers or even page after page of websites online, some of us still find books intimidating and even trick ourselves into thinking reading is difficult. Reading is one of the most natural things we do and the process of reading a great book should be no different or harder than reading a newspaper; it’s the effect and what we get out of it that should be more magical! So don’t be afraid if not everything makes sense, of even if you find it hard to take everything in. Novels are not usually designed to confuse you and trip you up, and you’re supposed be coming up with your own ideas and impression as you go along, not just hearing those of the writer.

When starting off, don’t be tricked into thinking that you have to read the classics or what’s popular. According to a Google study, there are 129,864,880 different books in the world, so it’s not like you can claim there’s nothing out there for you! You’ll have no problem finding what interests you. Writers will often say they write for themselves, and it’s probably true, but publishers publish books for readers, and as the generations change, they are targeting new and younger audiences. Find something that interests you and then go from there. With each new thing you read you’ll discover so much more than you would otherwise.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…The man who never reads lives only one.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

Just as you shouldn’t be afraid to read something different, don’t be afraid to think differently either. Form your own opinions and feel free to dislike and to criticise, even if it is something that is generally praised. Doing so can often be a good sign that you’re forming your own opinions. There is no right or wrong answer to what makes a good book, and certainly no formula for what makes a good reader. Reading is one of the most personal things we do, and we should each have our own tastes, none of which are wrong. Even the best writers do not always like each other’s work  – Mark Twain often criticised Jane Austin; even saying ‘every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone’ – so don’t feel that just because it’s a classic you’re missing the point or wrong if you don’t like it.

If you can find your own interests in reading and begin to develop your own taste, you can soon begin to feel the joys of it. Avid readers often testify that a good book is like a good friend. Whether it’s the characters, the story itself, or the idea you gain of the writer, a good book introduces you to something new and magical, and with each page you can feel a bond developing. In the JD Salinger’s classic, Catcher in The Rye, narrator Holden Caulfield says, ‘What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.’ Ironically Salinger was a renowned recluse, and would not have appreciated any such call, but no matter how he felt personally, there’s no doubt that when it comes to the joys of reading, his character was right.

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