In Praise of Bookworms

My monthly column in the Chronicle newspaper is about reading.
National Year of Reading, The Chronicle, April 2012

When Dick Adams left high school, he wasn’t able to read or write. It didn’t worry him much. As he told his local paper, ‘I was too busy playing cricket, helping my family on the farm, hunting and fishing’. But eventually, he realised that it would be hard to get far in life without reading and writing, so he found an adult literacy teacher and spent four years learning to read and write.

Today, Dick is a federal MP for the seat of Lyons in Tasmania. At Parliament House, he occupies the office two doors down from mine. He’s someone I can always trust for advice, and I know I’m not the only parliamentarian who feels that way.

Dick is also one of the national ambassadors for the Year of Reading 2012. The year encourages all Australians to enjoy reading as a life skill, to promote a reading culture at home, and to read to our children. Reading at home is great preparation for formal education – it’s also one of the pleasures that come from school. In the late-1980s, sitting in Judith Anderson's high school English class, I learned to treasure the insights into the human condition that come from the great storytellers - the works of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, George Orwell and Les Murray, Leo Tolstoy and Tim Winton.

These days, I’m enjoying other classics. My two year-old son Theodore loves Maisy’s Bus by Lucy Cousins and But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton. Five year-old Sebastian delights in The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. For rhythm and rhyme, it’s tough to beat Dr Seuss’s tongue-twisters and A.A. Milne’s poems, which I love reading to my children partly because my parents read them to me.

When we talk about the aims of education in Australia, politicians like me tend to talk about the importance of making sure people have the skills for work. But a great education system will also produce a nation of book lovers. When we talk about the benefits of school building, computers in schools, more resources for the neediest students, and Trades Training Centres, it can all end up sounding a tad amorphous. But what it adds up to is a better learning environment at schools.

Finally, let’s make sure we’re talking about what we’re reading. Whether it’s at a formal book club, over a coffee with a friend, or at work during the lunch break, discussions about books offer a chance to step out of the everyday and into another world. A good book is like a travelling capsule, allowing us to experience other countries and eras. Books helps make us more imaginative, and more interesting.

So, what are you reading?

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser, and his website is His summer reading included Ian McEwen’s Solar, Alison Booth’s The Indigo Sky, Christopher Hitchens’s Arguably, Michael Lewis’s Moneyball and Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender.

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