"Books can be mirrors, or doorways. You see yourself in them, or you escape into them. Nothing else in life can really offer that..." After the exciting announcement of the next Te Awhi Rito New Zealand Reading Ambassador last month, we caught up with Alan Dingley to discuss all things reading and his plans to grow the literature scene in Aotearoa NZ.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Christchurch, grew up in Hawke’s Bay, and have been in Palmerston North since 1995. I have two awesome kids, Sam (she/her) and George (he/him), a dog called Chaos (yes, he is), two budgies called Lemon and Lime, and two rats called Cheese and Cake.
What are you currently reading?
I have just finished Jimmy Carr's very cool book called 'Before and Laughter'. It's kind of an autobiographical self-help book.
Do you have a preferred genre, or one that you gravitate towards, and why?
My favourite author, and who I re-read regularly, is Terry Pratchett, so the fantasy humour genre is one I love. Also, embarrassingly, I don't mind a bit of Jack Reacher if I need a bit of distraction.
How did you get into reading?
I was lucky in that I had a reading role-model in my grandfather. I spent summers as a child reading on the porch of his house, while he read alongside me, or told me stories of his time in the war. Everyone needs a reading role-model.
Why do you do what you do, why have you chosen to be a librarian?
Books can be mirrors, or doorways. You see yourself in them, or you escape into them. Nothing else in life can really offer that. With movies and TV you are shown and told, but books let you imagine the people, places, and perils as it unfolds in front of you! Libraries are one of the last places where anyone, regardless of status, can enter as an equal. I like that.
Any tips for encouraging/developing the engagement of tamariki with books?
Don't ever be a snob. It doesn't matter if it's Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or a graphic novel, let them make their own choices....but be ready with a suggestion of what book could come next!! Let them see you reading, too. They watch us, they copy us, so let's set an example. Also make school libraries in New Zealand MANDATORY … it's a no-brainer.
How do you think this differs for encouraging adult reading, if at all?
As adults, we claim things like 'I don't have time to read', and use that as a pass to not engage. We have to be better than that though, as our children are always watching, and copying, us. We have to be the example. Reading for 15 minutes at night with your children, or to them, will bring forth benefits in so many areas....and who knows, you might just find a book you can escape into.
How do you think we can build greater appreciation of, and access to New Zealand literature?
We need to be better at self-promotion. No longer should we be polite Kiwis, shyly waving our hand whispering, 'Pick me, pick me'. If you like a New Zealand book, tell five people, if you LOVE a New Zealand book, tell 50 people.
How do you think we can encourage the future development of such literature?
There is good content out there. We need investment in authors, illustrators, publishers, libraries, the whole literature community. Perhaps make it easier to self-publish? Publishers only have a finite amount of resources they can bring to bear, but they are doing great things.
Are there any exciting events or things you are involved in coming up soon?
The whole Te Awhi Rito New Zealand Reading Ambassador concept is so exciting to me, and I am in a planning phase to make sure I can maximise my outreach. I hope to find those Reading Rolemodels out there, and use them to create more, and then we'll really be building a nation of connected readers. Doesn't that sound like paradise?