Neil Gaiman explains why we need libraries

Neil GaimanOn October 14, Neil Gaiman gave a lecture for the Reading Agency, at the Barbican in London. Neil Gaiman is the author of over 30 books, mostly fiction, including many for children and graphic novels. The Reading Agency’s annual lecture series was initiated in 2012 as a platform for leading writers and thinkers to share original, challenging ideas about reading and libraries, and The Guardian reprinted an abridged version of the talk. You can read the whole thing here, but there are a few sentences that stood out for me;

I want to talk about what reading does. What it’s good for.

I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.

It’s not one to one: you can’t say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations…

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show 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 them…

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 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.

Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals…

Reading in Overdrive

I got myself a new phone recently and replaced my iPhone (with the broken glass back) with a Samsung Galaxy 4. It’s been a bit frustrating learning how to use it, but one app that I came across recently is a must have for book-lovers. It’s called Overdrive, and it’s available for almost any phone (even the ones with glass backs…) as well as for Kindles and Nooks, and computers.

ImageWhat it does is brilliant. To backtrack a little – I know my local library has had e-books I can ‘borrow’ for years, but I have never managed to work out how to do it easily. It always seemed complicated, and maybe it was. Or maybe it was just me. Overdrive makes it really simple. I downloaded the app, which then asked me for my zip code, and provided me with a list of libraries with digital collections. You need to be a library member, so I chose my local one and was immediately given a list of e-books I could borrow, or put a hold on.

In addition, and this is fabulous, it allows me to download audiobooks so long as the library has them available. This used to require a special piece of equipment, (I had something called a Zen) since it wouldn’t work with certain formats, like glass-backed phones. Plus, downloading was tedious and not always successful.

So Overdrive is a godsend. I have downloaded the latest Janet Evanovich novel (It is summer, after all) as an e-book. When I did so, it asked me where I would like it delivered, so I chose my Kindle, and voila! There it was (on my phone and my Kindle Fire) just like a purchased book, except that it will disappear if I haven’t read it within 3 weeks. And I am in line for the audiobook of The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes. Overdrive, my new best friend, will tell me when it’s ready.

Excuse me, I have a book to read…