Sheila O’Reilly: a booksellers perspective
"Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons", says Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. That's a thought-provoking statement, and it makes me proud to be part of an industry that produces and sells books.
However, books are not easily accessible to everyone. Sometimes in our industry we forget that not everyone can read, or read easily; we forget that books can sometimes be intimidating, and that bookshops and libraries are not necessarily welcoming to everyone. This is not a situation I feel proud about.
One organisation looking to address these issues is Quick Reads, produced by the Reading Agency. You may not have heard of the series, so you might be surprised to learn that in the last ten years Quick Reads, supported by Galaxy chocolate, have sold or given away over 4.7 million books. That's nearly 5 million people now reading who might not otherwise have picked up a book.
Each year Quick Reads commissions and publishes six new titles by major, award-winning authors. The books must be no longer than 100 pages, with sentences averaging about 15 words and chapters kept reasonably short. The books are sold at just £1 through major retailers and bookshops, and are available in libraries. They are aimed at people who have never read, people who have lost the ability for extended periods of concentration, readers recovering from treatment and anyone who enjoys a brilliantly written but short and accessible story.
According to research commissioned by Quick Reads into our reading habits, published this month, books have had a profound impact on readers’ lives. The research reports that 20% of readers have been inspired to make positive changes to their health and take up new jobs; 45% of readers said they gained a better understanding of different people and cultures; 39% said they realised that they are happy with the lives they have. These are powerful statistics, and there are many more of them.
The key point is that emergent adult readers are in every respect the same as other readers, except in their familiarity and confidence with the written word. A beginner reader is not a beginner thinker; but they will now have higher aspirations for themselves and society.
To sum up in the words of Andy McNab (who had the reading age of an 11-year-old on joining the army): "every time you read a book you get a bit of knowledge, every time you get a bit of knowledge you get a bit more power".
Take a look at the Quick Reads series, which includes authors like Ann Cleeves and Roddy Doyle. The 2016 titles have just been published and are available in all good retailers. For more information visit the Quick Reads website.