Why doesn’t Britain read anymore?

I left off last year with my own New Year’s resolutions, so it seems appropriate to begin with a plea that you adopt two yourself and encourage as many people as you can to do them too.

I was completely flabbergasted this week to read that one in four adults hasn’t read a book for a year – I think I must be making up for a large chunk of the population. And 40% of Britons never read books. Terrifying. You’re more likely to live in a two-car household than one in which the couple both read.

The main culprits here, are unsurprisingly almost half of males between the ages of 16 and 24, a habit they probably carried from childhood. Studies have shown that girls read more than boys and are three times as likely to borrow a book from a library. Boys only tend to read the books set at school, anything about their interests and books relating to film adaptations

So, my first plea is to borrow a book from your local library (if you don’t, it could face closure) or buy one, preferably from your local, non-chain bookshop (they need all our support too). As this is a place where we can confess to guilty pleasures, then don’t feel that it has to be great literature – any book will be wonderful. What’s important is that you enjoy it.

Don’t follow the third of Britons surveyed (they never ask me…) and claim to have read ‘challenging literature’ to seem well read. Some 40% of people have lied about reading something so that they could stay in a conversation. Unsurprisingly, the most bluffed about book is Lord of the Rings.

Mind you, half of the adults who responded to one survey said reading the classics makes you look more intelligent. I guess we all make judgements about people based on what you see them reading on the train or bus in the morning (adults reading Harry Potter months after the event and people reading a book that’s currently being serialised on TV always make me squirm). I often like to carry something really bizarre just to get a rise out of my fellow regulars, but then I have a very eclectic taste in books and an off-kilter sense of humour. You’ll be amazed at how much room you find you have when you’re reading a textbook on forensics, complete with lovely photos of dead bodies (it was interesting too).

Why not set up a swap system at work, either for your own office or for the company as a whole? Have a shelf where people can leave books they’ve read and take one they fancy, or put them in a box. Why not have a board handy for people to stick up postcards with reactions and suggestions. We all tend to read something that people are raving about or that’s the big trend. Start a book group to talk about what you’re reading – not one of those ones where you sit in a circle talking about the underlying themes or that whole malarkey – talk about what you liked and why in as lively a way as possible.

And if nothing else will get you to do it, 85% of women in a survey said a man was more attractive if he could talk about literature – although they would grade their opinion on just what it was he read…

The second and most important plea is to read to your children and encourage them to continue reading for themselves. Heartbreakingly, in 2006, it was discovered that a third of children had never had a bedtime story, one of the enduring joys of childhood. However, 62% of parents do read a story to their children despite a quarter of them not having been read to themselves. But then one in four people would like their partner to read aloud to them in bed too!

Children who are confident at reading are, indisputably, better at writing and are better able to enjoy their education. And they won’t grow up to add to the 16 million adults – nearly half the workforce – who are holding down jobs despite having the reading and writing skills expected of children leaving primary school.

* Ten books to read

* Five books not to read