Must read: Neil Gaiman – “Reading and obligation”

When I first stepped, rather tentatively, into the world of blogging and tweeting I had no idea of the pleasures I would find. I found a whole community of others who share my passion for education, learning, literacy and writing. I found a comfortable niche, discussion group, and a place for sharing ideas like I hadn’t for a long time. I’ve “come home” on the internet.

In these few short months I have come across some bloggers with very powerful messages that I wish everyone could read and act upon in the ways described. What a wonderful world we would have!

Over the coming months I will let you know about some  articles I consider  ‘must reads’.

Please let me know of others you think I should also be reading!

Thanks for sharing and supporting me on my learning journey thus far.

The story has just begun!

This first in the series is a lecture given by Neil Gaiman entitled “Reading and obligation”

Neil Gaiman lecture in full: Reading and obligation

Neil captivates me with his opening statement:

“It’s important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased.”

If you have read any other articles on my blog, you will know that I am biased; biased towards a child-centered, hands-on, creative and innovative approach to education. I believe that children are capable of far more than a structured didactic approach to schooling gives them credit for; and that big changes in the way education is delivered are necessary if we are to make best use of our most valuable resource – human potential.

As a reader, writer and literacy educator I am biased towards approaches which foster a love of reading and writing. The pleasures to be gained from a literate existence are immeasurable. But more than that, being literate is not only personally empowering, it is a basic human right.

Obviously the articles on my must read list will be those that share my biases.

Please follow the link to watch the video or read the complete transcript of Neil’s lecture.

I offer a few teasers below to incite your interest.

“everything changes when we read”

Wow! How powerful is that statement!

“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.”

“Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading. . .

And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy.”

“Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.”

Don’t you love that last statement? I do. If we are always “happy” with the way things are, why would we ever try to improve or change them? A little discontent can be a good thing!

“We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.”

Neil goes on to talk about our obligations as readers, writers and citizens of the world.

He lists the following (read or listen for his explanation)

  • Read for pleasure
  • Support libraries
  • Read aloud to our children
  • To use the language
  • We writers – and especially writers for children, but all writers – have an obligation to our readers: it’s the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were – to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth (underlining is mine)
  • not to bore our readers
  • not to preach, not to lecture, not to force 
  • never, ever, under any circumstances, to write anything for children to read that we would not want to read ourselves.
  • to understand and to acknowledge that as writers for children we are doing important work,
  • to daydream We have an obligation to imagine. . . . individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.
  • to make things beautiful.
  • to tell our politicians what we want

Neil reminds us that

Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise.

If you want your children to be intelligent,” he said, “read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.

I couldn’t agree more.

What about you? What do you think of Neil’s list of obligations? Are there any you would omit, or any you would add?

11 thoughts on “Must read: Neil Gaiman – “Reading and obligation”

  1. Pingback: readilearn: Libraries, books and reading = infinite worlds to explore - Readilearn

  2. Bec

    Hi Nor, this sounds like a great lecture & I find myself in agreement with everything you and he have said about reading. I bought one of his children’s books for an 8 year old, and read it first of course. It was really fun! So I see what he means about not expecting children to read something that you wouldn’t read yourself. There’s no reason that fiction for kids has to be rudimentary or bland.


    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Bec.
      I can see from both your recommendation and that of Glenn that I will have to seek out some of Neil’s books. His children’s book might be a great place for me to start!


    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Glenn,
      Thanks for your comment. I wasn’t aware of him before this article. Please let me know some more of his work you consider “must reads”. His article definitely makes him an amazing all-round dude!


        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks Glenn. I’ll have to have a look for the series. I never have been much of a comic fan though. I like to read the words more than the pictures. There’s no harm in trying something new though. Who knows what pleasures await!



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