Students fall into two distinct categories when it comes to reading in English.
They either love it or they hate it.
I had students who always had their head in a book. Students that carried around great tomes of novels, history, law, economics and anything else that got their interest. I also had students that hated reading. They would actually say that to me.
I could never understand why anyone would hate reading.
But then I looked at the amount of work they have to do and I realised that for many students they equated reading with work. It was just something they had to do for a school assignment or homework.
Reading for them was just a chore.
But if you think about it, reading can help you. It can help you improve your vocabulary for one. And like it or not, it is an essential part of studying. Through all your school life, through college and even after you graduate, reading is an essential part of life. Not just studying.
So it looks like you are stuck with it.
If that is so, why not make reading fun and enjoyable?
It doesn’t need to be boring and hard work and something you hate. It can be a great part of your life that makes you a more interesting and knowledgeable person.
You just have to read the right books.
What I Had to Read at School
When I was at school, we had a set curriculum of books that all of us students had to read.
This was the 1970s in London, England, so the reading material always seemed to be about dull and boring subjects. The books we had to read and the plays and poems — they all seemed to be written in a kind of English I just could not understand.
We had to read William Shakespeare. The language that Shakespeare used seemed ancient to me. At the age of 11 and 12, I just could not access it and it felt like torture to read it in class.
We also had to read poems by Robert Graves. These were poems about the first world war. I had no experience of this and therefore I could not relate to what the poems were about.
Then there was Thomas Hardy and all of his Victorian novels. Everything he wrote in his books made life seem so terrible. Everyone was either very rich or extremely poor. And life appeared so tragic in all of his stories.
Now all of these writers and poets are great. They are widely respected in literary circles and their work is seen as the work of genius.
But at my age at school, I just hated it.
And I am sorry to say that I have never really enjoyed any of these writers since. Even though they are respected and admired by many I think school ruined it all for me.
So why did we have to read these books and poems?
The curriculum was set by a group of dusty old men and women who had grown up with these books themselves. These writers were — and still are — considered the best of British.
But it had no relation to my life. I could not connect with it and the stories and characters did not resonate with me at all.
Then One Day…
In my school in London, we had two groups of teachers.
The older teachers who always seemed very strict and serious and always wore black suits. And the younger teachers who had longer hair (it was the 70s remember) and wore lighter coloured clothes.
One teacher even wore jeans to school.
In our English class, we had a young Scottish teacher called Mr Angus. He seemed cool, and he talked to us differently from the other older teachers. He seemed friendly to us.
He also introduced other books to us.
One day he came into class with a pile of books. All the class groaned as we realised we would have to read these books in class.
“Today, everyone,” said Mr Angus. “I want to start reading this book.”
He held one of the books up.
It was Lord of The Flies.
We started reading it and I was hooked immediately.
I had never known a story like it. It was like a combination of one of the Saturday morning kids’ TV drama’s combined with science-fiction and horror. It was like nothing I had ever read before.
Of course, there were the usual kids that hated it. But for me. I was just thrown into this other world and I didn’t want to leave.
The next term, Mr Angus came in with a new set of books.
“Today, we will start reading this,” he said.
He held the book in the air.
It was A Kestrel for a Knave.
And I fell in love with this book too.
It was as if Mr Angus had found another secret library where all the really interesting and cool books were kept.
I was both delighted and angry with him for introducing them to us but also keeping them from us for so long.
I had found two fantastic stories that I could just read again and again and again.
What I Thought of the Books
Lord of The Flies and A Kestrel for a Knave changed the way I read books. I no longer looked at books as the enemy but as friends that could entertain and delight me and throw me into a completely different world.
Now I knew there was a whole new universe of books out there waiting for me to explore.
I was very lucky growing up. My parents had always encouraged me to read. We had shelves stacked full of books at home and I had a little bookshelf with my own collection of books.
But now I found stories and novels that I did not want to put down.
I asked Mr Angus for his advice. I was addicted, and I needed more books to read.
He told me to read 1984 and Brave New World.
I read these novels and they just blew my mind.
How was it possible to create such a horrific, nightmarish world using just words?
I devoured these two novels and to this day still read them every three or four years.
I was hopelessly addicted to reading now.
What I Read From Then On
I read all the books that Mr Angus suggested.
I then discovered books on my own. When I was 13, I read all the James Bond books by Ian Fleming.
Not in the same league as George Orwell or Aldous Huxley but I could not read these books quick enough. I read the original novel of Jaws about a great white shark hunting down surfers and swimmers in a small seaside town in America. I read Marathon Man and I can remember it scaring the living daylights out of me.
Then when I was 16, I discovered Jack Kerouac.
I read On The Road and like all other 16-year-olds that read it, I thought I was the only one that had discovered the book. I was probably very annoying to talk to at this age.
But the point is, I was reading. I was reading what I liked to read, and I was enjoying it.
And this is what you should do too.
What You Should Read
First, let me say that you should not read all the books I read.
By all means, read them, but don’t read them because I read them.
You need to read what you like to read. There are thousands and thousands of books for you to choose from. You just need to discover them.
Avoid Book Lists
You can find book lists online easily.
Huge great lists of books where the writer of the list says you simply must read all of these books.
Take these lists as suggestions only. They may recommend some great books but it doesn’t mean that every single book you see on the list is ideal for you.
Do not be blinded by book lists.
Do some research on each title and see if it sparks your interest. If so, then give the book a try. If not, move on until you find something that does interest you.
Where to Find Books to Read
There are some great websites to help you find all the books you want to read.
First, try a site called GoodReads. This has many lists of books but there are also groups.
So, for example, if you like romantic fiction there are groups to help you find more books in this genre. But if you like hardcore science-fiction there are also groups to help you find the latest reads in this style.
This is a site where people can create their own subreddit for whatever their interests.
The site has a lot of strange subreddits but it also has many cool places to find certain kinds of books. Maybe you are a fan of old school noir and the detective novels from the thirties. There is a subreddit exactly for that.
This site can also help you find reading groups and places to find the books you want to read.
Once you find the books and novels that you like to read — then you read them.
Indulge yourself in these fantastic and amazing worlds. And know that there are many, many other such books waiting for you to read.
By reading the books you love, you will broaden your vocabulary, it will make you smarter and it will help you gain knowledge of subjects and topics without the pressure of endless study.
And if you don’t like a book you are reading…
Then you can put it down.
No need to torture yourself by reading it to the very end. There are thousands of other books to read. If you are two or three chapters into a book and you are not enjoying it, then stop reading it.
Do not punish yourself!
What I want you to take from this is that there is an unlimited supply of books for you to enjoy in this world.
There is no need for you to think that reading is work and something only associated with studying and school.
You should love reading what you read. You should be able to dig out the book on the bus or train, or while waiting for your friend and just dive into this world created between the pages
Reading should be an essential part of your life. Something that you do for all your life.
It will definitely help you improve all your English skills and it will make you a much more interesting person to talk to in conversation with others.
Please take the time to find books you love to read and you will never look back.
Please check out my other articles about reading:
And take a look at my short stories for reading comprehension right here.