I was listening to Broadcasting House this morning on Radio 4 when the Beeb decided to do its bit for 'reading for pleasure'.
They had Daisy Milligan, aged nine, reading from Joyce's Ulysses. Later her sister Lotte read from Melville's Moby Dick, and, finally, Daisy again, this time from Hawking's A Brief History of Time. Melville, we were told, would, if he were still alive, be 191. And, if he were still alive, I'm sure he’d be completely bemused by the broadcast.
While both girls coped tremendously well with the difficulties of reading such complex vocabulary and sentence structure, the piece was puffed as 'reading for pleasure'! What pleasure, I’d like to know, do two such young girls get from reading books that they probably didn't understand? The whole thing was completely bizarre.
What the two girls demonstrated was that they could probably read anything and, by reading, I mean they could decode the words on the page with a very high degree of fluency (automaticity). Such a high level of skill would enable them to read anything within their intellectual capabilities with ease. In other words, they would gain immediate access to meaning without expending energy trying to decode the words on the page. This undoubtedly would enable them to read for pleasure.
What research on reading consistently shows is that if a child has a reading age approximately two years ahead of their chronological age, they will read for pleasure – because reading is easy. If they have a reading age at or below their chronological age, they probably won't read for pleasure. That is why this phenomenon is called the Matthew principle (Matthew, Chapter 25 v 29). Children who read with facility read a lot and they get richer; those that don’t fall further behind.
Pity the makers of the programme don't understand that!