A few months ago I had to leave my privately rented house. Along with my husband and 3 children, I was forced to pack up one home and source another very quickly. In the end, from the point of being served an ultimatum by my landlord to walking through the front door of my new home took only 4 weeks and 3 days.
Such a tight turnaround was not without its challenges. The packing up was difficult on a number of levels and required hiring an enormous skip into which we threw many of the young family possessions accumulated over five years. A couple of images remain with me from that purge: first, the sorry sight of teddies and other soft toys contorted under mounds of multi-coloured plastic toys (will you ever forgive me Igglepiggle?). Secondly, the books. Books I had carried with me across continents; had chosen to accompany me through early to mid-adulthood; had called in from the lofts and bookshelves of others when I’d felt I was settled enough to do so. Of all I threw into that skip, it was the destruction of the books that hurt the most.
On Twitter a few weeks ago, someone shared a Japanese word: ‘Tsundoku’ which cleverly and succinctly describes a person who acquires books but then doesn’t actually read them leaving them untouched on bookshelves, bedside tables and windowsills. That’s me. I love having books even though I don’t read many of them anymore. Having books has always made the places I’ve lived feel more like a home. Everywhere I have lived I’ve displayed them because they amaze, inspire and comfort me. When I dumped lots recently it was only because I had to move as quickly and efficiently as possible and they took up too much space. It was a heart-breaking but practical decision.
Now, it turns out that my ‘Tsundoku’ tendencies and affection for books, far from being a quirk are a good thing for my children. Researchers at the University of Nevada have noted that simply having books in a home has profound effects on the educational level a child is likely to reach. 500 books in a home will have the same positive effect on a child’s attainment as both parents having been educated to University level. If you haven’t got 500, no matter- as many books as you can manage will result in a degree of educational level uplift. As a general rule, the more books in the home; the greater the educational life chances; therefore earning potential; therefore quality of life, a child can expect.
Significant statistics. It strikes me as I reflect on my own experience of book off-loading that the parent on limited income who is moving from one form of accommodation to another on a regular basis-a situation becoming more and more prevalent (every six months for some unfortunates)- is unlikely to accumulate a library that moves with them. Like me, they will find those books are just too heavy and bulky to transport easily. Moving is expensive and time consuming, you want to cut costs where you can or limit the number of trips the friend with a car needs to make to get you to your new place. In addition, six months or a year in a place will not build a home library. Libraries need time and sufficient time in one place is what is sorely lacking for many experiencing unstable forms of tenure.
Ultimately, children and their families need the security and stability that comes from having a home which belongs to them for as long as they need it. Otherwise, these children end up being denied the opportunities they most certainly deserve to construct better lives for themselves and that is simply unfair.