There’s this bizarre disconnect in my life where my work spans multiple, discrete fields, but the people who know me in a work sense tend to only know me in one field. For I write about social and environmental issues, football (soccer), and the arts and, for reasons both obvious and not, these worlds don’t often overlap.
I don’t, for example, think I have often managed to bring in football here.
The Guardian just published a photo gallery of footballers’ favourite books. While some of the footballers’ selections could, without deeper examination, lead to quips about them not reading particularly grown-up books, it’s probably more a reflection of the audience they’re trying to encourage to read. That is, people struggling with literacy issues.
The Guardian article is part of a Premier League Reading Stars Online Challenge facilitated by the National Literacy Trust, an organisation that works to reduce the fact that one in six people in the UK struggle with low literacy. (The figures are likely similar in Australia.)
It does so by such actions as establishing literacy project in some of the UK’s lowest socioeconomic communities. Getting footballers—heroes—on board to encourage literacy is another step (and a powerful one at that, for who else to make reading look aspirational than your football heroes?).
It’s fitting, then, that none of the footballers are standing there touting (and putting people off with) something of the ilk of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. That’s a book I have to admit I’ve never gotten more than a few chapters in on either. Instead, we see a mix of adult and children’s books, most of them mass market and accessible. There were even a few in there that inspired me.
Aston Villa’s Shay Given, for instance, loves Artemis Fowl, a series I’ve read sporadically myself over the years, but never managed to get round to reading in full.
True story: I used to read snippets of Artemis Fowl books while eating my lunch in the stockroom out the back of a bookstore where I used to work. The Artemis Fowl books seemed to be housed near where I sat and, intrigued and also keen to improve my product knowledge, I one day started flicking through and was hooked. I began to look forward to those Artemis-filled escapes.
Arsenal’s Emiliano Martinez’s choice of fellow footballer Sergio Aguero’s biography is a good selection for inspiring people to read—a footballers’ biography is surely a great incentive and entry point to reading if you’re a football fan. So too are the selection of Harry Potters that appear in various footballers’ selections—lose yourself in Rowling’s imaginary world and, if necessary, supplement the books with the films and you’re at least part way on your way.
Former Australian goalkeeper and legend Mark Schwarzer—himself a children’s book author—chose Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. I’d like to know why that Dr Seuss book specifically—I think I’d have nominated the entire suite.
Liverpool’s Adam Lallana selected The Gruffalo, a book I feel is entirely remiss of me not to have yet read. I actually even have a friend and her young son who regularly perform the tale for family and friends, and I still haven’t managed to encounter the text.
Meanwhile, Swansea City’s Jonjo Shelvey’s went for The Gruffalo’s Child, which prompted me to be, like, there’s a sequel?!
I’ve never actually read Some Dogs Do, which was nominated by QPR’s Joey Barton, but the cover makes me think it’s fun and I should rectify that reading gap, stat. After the Gruffalo books, of course.
Leicester City’s Dean Hammond chose The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a book I have to say featured prominently in my early reading years and one I’ve noticed friends my age now having children buying for their own kids.
Finally, Newcastle United’s Siem De Jong and Stoke City’s Jonathan Walters voted for perennial favourite Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG, respectively. As with the Dr Seuss selections, I’m intrigued. If pressed, I’d probably have gone Matilda myself.
All of which is to say that I’m getting something out of the footballers’-favourite-books campaign, even though I’m not its target. I have some mighty respect for the charity for the work they do and for the footballers for getting on board to promote literacy.
Seriously, if anyone can make reading seem less scary and more cool, it’s them. If it encourages even one person to get some help improving their literacy, it’ll be a win. I’d love to see something similar extended to the A-League and W-League…