Let’s all pick up a book this World Book Day

World Book Day is a celebration. It’s a day where everyone comes together to reflect on the importance of reading and literature for people of all ages, and encourage, especially the younger generations, to embrace the joy of reading.

Created by UNESCO in 1995 as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, this is now an occasion marked in over 100 countries around the globe every year.

For me, my favourite novels have to be The Famous Five by Enid Blyton, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy, and The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. I also admire the works of Pat Barker, Sebastian Faulks, Ian McEwan and of course world-renowned authors Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling.

The Cities of London & Westminster, a constituency I am incredibly proud to represent, has also set the scene for many novels. Whether it’s Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary Sherlock Holmes, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, or Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll, I’m incredibly proud of our rich literacy history.

Reading isn’t just a way to relax though, it gives us the skills we need to enhance our lives. The National Literacy Trust has shown that there is a correlation between literacy rates and life expectancy. For example, a boy born in an area with some of the greatest literacy challenges will live 26 years shorter than a boy born in an area with some of the fewest literacy challenges.

Research from World Book Day also shows that reading for pleasure is at its lowest since 2005. As politicians, we must reverse this. It’s critical adults pick up a book whenever they can as doing so support will too enhance their quality of life.

That’s why I work with organisations such as The Reading Agency who provide many free resources to help improve adult reading skills. It’s also why I’m proud to support World Book Day in its efforts to get every child into reading. Last year alone, this wonderful organisation provided 50 million £1 book tokens across the UK to ensure children can pick up a book. For many, this token will enable them to buy a book of their very own for the first time.

Successive Conservative Governments have seen the importance of getting our children to read from a young age. Improvements to children’s literacy have been a major priority, and results are paying off. The most recent OECD PISA international literacy table saw the UK climb from 25th in 2009 to 13th in the 2022 reading rankings. Not only that but our primary school children are now ranked the 4th best readers in the world, and the best in Europe.

World Book Day isn’t just about reading though, we must also celebrate our bookshops and libraries. Across the UK there are over 1,000 book stores and the publishing industry is worth £7 billion a year to the UK economy.

I work with the Publishers Association and every summer ask fellow MPs and Peers for their favourite recommendation for our Summer Reading List for Parliamentarians. Last summer, my choice was Hitler, Stalin, Mum & Dad by Danny Finkelstein. Other recommendations also included The Age of the Strong Man by Gideon Rachman, The Great Post Office Scandal by Nick Wallis, and Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus.

It’s a tremendous list complete with a variety of genres. I hope even more colleagues will contribute this year, and I encourage everyone to take inspiration from the list for their next read.

Reading is a joy. As we celebrate World Book Day, it’s on us all to do what we can to encourage everyone, no matter their age, to pick up a book. Sometimes it can be as simple as one book to change someone’s entire life. That’s the case I made at the recent Westminster Hall debate I secured on this very topic.

Nickie Aiken MP

Nickie Aiken is the Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster, and was elected in 2019.