Book Tip: Becoming a Reader: The Experience of Fiction from Childhood to Adulthood

by J.A. Appleyard

For the first time, I have selected a book that makes no mention of Wittgenstein. So, you may ask, "why feature it on a site titled Wittgenstein on Learning?" Well, the official subtitle of the site is a Wittgensteinian View of Language, Literacy and Learning. Something that is Wittgensteinian does not need to be by or about Wittgenstein and his writing. It just needs to be in the spirit of Wittgenstein. In this case, Appleyard writes a fascinating book that posits the argument that an individual's reading behaviours, interests and needs change as one grows from childhood to adulthood.

Appleyard openly admits that he has no expertise in school-based education. Instead, he was inspired to write the book based upon observations he made in his teaching of English literature at university. He noticed a difference between his manner of reading as a university lecturer and the manner of reading of his early undergraduate students. In particular, he notes that his students read to find "truths" and to "reflect upon themselves", whereas the university course wanted the students to see through the ideas and read to critique the design and the aesthetics of literature. The latter is an altogether different purpose and perspective.

This led Appleyard to explore why we read and how our reading changes as individuals move developmentally from childhood to adolescent to young adulthood to adulthood. For instance, it can be a movement from fantasy to the hero's journey to the coming of age to the anti-hero to the pragmatic. Meanwhile, each movement in reading reflects the culture's perspectives on gender, childhood, adolescent, adulthood, etc. 

I regularly return this book. It's highly readable, and very valuable in a teacher's library. It prompts the reader to think about serious questions, such as "when is a child ready to encounter moral ambiguity?", "when does a reader seek out heroes that exhibit flaws?" and "at what stage does a reader prefer ethical changes as opposed to physical ones?" Enjoy and explore.