“Reading is a luxury we can all indulge”

The COVID-19 crisis — and resulting national lockdown — has gifted all of us with more time to spend at home.

And what better way to relax and escape the stresses and strains of the world than by dipping into a book — says Councillor Barbara Murray, the brains behind Liverpool’s 2020 Year of Reading.

Councillor Barbara Murray, Liverpool City Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, Employment and Skills

“I have been an avid reader from an early age. I got my first library card when I was seven. I have always read for pleasure and my measure of a good book is the immersive quality that draws you in and causes you to care for the characters and what happens to them.

When I was younger I would easily read several books a week especially on public transport, I was definitely the passenger with their nose in a book on all journeys.

Since becoming a councillor and especially since becoming Cabinet Member, I have to read many briefing notes, academic reports, council reports, the minutes from meetings, strategies, data, action plans…so in recent years I mainly read for purpose.

When I became a grandmother two years ago, I was delighted to re-engage with children’s books and I enjoy nothing more than reading with my grandson and talking about the pictures with him.

Barbara’s grandson reading Peter Rabbit

My personal recommendations would have to include anything by Charles Dickens, the absolute master of story-telling; Jane Austen, I love her gentle humour; any poetry, I am currently reading Roger McGough’s latest collection.

I am just about to start reading ‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’ by John Irving, a Christmas present from my son and I will start dipping into ‘Grow and Cook: The Ultimate Kitchen Garden Guide’ by Mark Diacono, posted to me by my youngest daughter last week.

Reading for pleasure or purpose is an absolute luxury that we can indulge during lockdown.

And while we have had to cancel some of the great events we had planned for Liverpool’s 2020 Year of Reading celebration, I would urge everyone to pick up a book and start reading.

I would urge parents, while our schools are closed, don’t stress or panic about how much home schooling you can or can’t do. But do make time to read — and enjoy it — with your children. Or why not video call Granny or Grandpa and ask them to do the honours?

I would ask everyone to read more for your mental health, to help cope with the potential boredom of being stuck at home for the next few months.

We’ve made it as easy as possible for all our residents to get into reading.

Children can join Liverpool Libraries from birth (with thanks to Edge Hill University for recently sponsoring 10,000 children’s library cards) and anyone living, working or studying in the city can join our libraries for free.

Although the doors of our libraries are currently shut, there are thousands of digital books, comics, magazines and audiobooks to explore, for free, online through Read Liverpool. We’ve seen a 700% increase in traffic to our site in recent weeks, proving just how many avid bookworms we have in the city!

And some of our Libraries staff have shared their top tips for a great read. Please also check out Liverpool Reads Facebook group for suggestions, reviews and live readings.

Please get reading! A world of adventure, excitement and wonder awaits.

Councillor Barbara Murray is a former teacher and school governor. She is currently Liverpool City Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, Employment and Skills — a post she has held since 2018.