"Reading for pleasure at the age of fifteen is a strong factor in determining future social mobility..." - so starts an article by Jonathan Douglas, Director of the Nationl Literary Trust in a recent edition of the Telegraph Weekend.
The bottom line is that those who read for pleasure, rather than due to the goad of education, are nurturing an inherent human inquisitiveness, a willingness to learn, that will be carried throughout their lives and spill over into aspects of their work environment - hence the social mobility angle.
I agree with this. Feeding an engagement with an abstract world pushes back barriers, opens up horizons.
I meet such readers in bookshops each time I support a signing. Usually they are wide-eyed and dumb-struck by being faced with a writer of novels who actually speaks to them. Despite my not writing for their age group, I ask their opinions on story ideas; ask if they, themselves, write stories. Usually it is the parents who answer, because the children are ten or eleven or twelve. And I talk to them now because I can almost guarantee that by the age of fifteen they won't be reading for pleasure at all, especially the boys.
Point to hormones if you like, point to computer games and peer pressure, but I point to school, the academic need not only to tick boxes but tick boxes dictated by academia for the good of the child.
In the UK we move our children from primary to secondary education at eleven years old, where tales of adventure and enthusiasm are suffocated beneath worthier texts which must be read. In my day that meant Dickens, Austen and Hughes - at eleven, twelve and thirteen - 19th century novelists writing for a contemporary adult audience, not even children of their day.
Did my son fare better? Not much. What could I say to books thrown across the room accompanied by '...explain how a rocket can land next to a house and an old grandad can climb aboard and travel to the moon...' when he had never known a time without manned space flight.
My family has no third generation going through today's schooling, but from reading Jonathan Douglas' article there seems to be the same sort of hand-wringing over literacy there was in my day. Perhaps my four minute conversation with a young voracious reader in a bookshop is a mere drop in the ocean, but oceans fill due to individual drops of rain. Sprinkle a raindrop today. In fact, sprinkle several. They're needed, if the comments beneath the article are anything to go by.