Welcome down the rabbit hole to my version of Wonderland.
I have always been fascinated by books, both from a reading and writing point of view. I have early memories, from before I could read to myself, of sitting on the maroon velvet couch in our lounge room as my mum read to my brother (on her left) and I (on the right) from a book of Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes which included such classics as Heidi, Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk. More than 25 years later I still have the book in my possession and it is a part of my classroom library. Other than this, I have no memory of ever not being able to read to myself. I am convinced that I wear glasses today because, every night before my parents went to bed and therefore my meagre light source (the hall light) was turned off, I read in bed. I would hide my book under my pillow and pretend to be asleep every time I thought I heard someone about to come down the hall. Of course I got caught and warned multiple times that it wouldn’t be good for my eyesight to try to read in such dim lighting.
Please note I do not speak about my reading prowess to brag. I often rue this fact as I believe that I would be a better teacher if I had struggled with reading myself when I was a child. I was lucky. Nature and nurture combined to ensure I learned the alphabet - names, sounds and letter formations - before I began school. My natural curiosity meant I wanted to, and my stay at home mum had the time to help me. I remember sitting in the window seat painstakingly tracing and copying mum’s handwritten letters of the alphabet. I will also admit that Sesame Street and other similar preschool educational television programs may have played a big part in my knowledge of the alphabet before starting school.
I learned about plagiarism long before it is usually drummed into most students during VCE and university, when my mum caught me “writing my own book.” During my middle years of primary school my best friend Megan and I were convinced we would be authors when we grew up. I was sitting in the aforementioned window seat, copying text, and I think pictures too, straight from a book onto pieces of paper I had stapled, or perhaps taped, together. My mum stopped me and simply explained that if I wanted to be an author I needed to come up with my own ideas and that by copying a book written by someone else, I was actually “stealing” their ideas. This is a concept that I’ve since tried to instill in my students at school, as I’ve already proved you are never too young to learn about copyright! Once, one of my students spent two hours reading over the information he had found for his project on electricity and changing it into his own words. This showed he could comprehend the information himself, so much so that he could explain it to others so that they could understand. Yes, these are quite high order thinking skills for a grade three student and I assure you he was an outstanding exception.
My ambition to become an author dwindled quickly when I discovered I had little to no original ideas which I could write about. I always ended up realising that my idea had been “stolen” from somewhere else - a book, a movie, a television show. At that young age I tended to share Alice’s view (see the title of this post) of books, in that I was not interested in facts - it was fiction or bust - and that I believed others wouldn’t be interested in stories of my real life.
Therefore I gave up on books as a career, but I did not give up on books altogether. I was already a voracious reader and I began to absolutely devour books, with an unwavering preference for fiction. I love immersing myself in another time or place, wondering what it might be like to live there. I love marvelling over how authors can create complex and detailed new worlds from their own imagination or bring an actual time period of history to life through meticulous research. I am fascinated how they can send a different message to different readers with one set of words, and how I find new surprises every time I reread a favourite book. Many of my favourite books are serials (The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Earth’s Children) because I so enjoy finding the subtle links and layers that authors write into books in a series to connect the narrative in both minor and major, and unexpected ways. I’ll read anything once and it is a rare occasion that I will give up on a book completely before reading all the way to the end.
And so I come to the question I would like to ask you: what has been your experience of books? Did you struggle or not with reading as a child, and what are your reading habits like now? Did you have similar ambitions to become an author? Why do you love or hate reading? What is your opinion of fictional versus factual books? I welcome your views.
I love this post, so I’ve reblogged it in full.
Books have always been special to me, almost sacred. Some people will understand me when I say I get a thrill when I am surrounded by books, whether I’m in a library or a book shop, or even when I catch a glimpse of my own bookcase.
The first ‘chapter book’ I ever read was The Magic Faraway Tree when I was in Grade 2. I remember racing through the last chapters, engaged and excited by the adventure, while I was at my grandmother’s. I have inherited her 1960s vintage hardcover editions of the books, complete with the original Jo, Dame Slap, Dick and Fanny (now published as Joe, Dame Snap, Rick and Franny).
In Grade 4 my teacher read us The Magician’s Nephew. To this day I can still hear her voice when I read it. And as a dad and a teacher it gives me the greatest pleasure to keep it going and read it to children.
At age 12 I discovered Isaac Asimov, collecting all of his science-fiction books and reading a heap of his non-fiction. The clarity of his writing and the strength of his ideas sustain me to this day.
I never struggled with reading. I could never get enough of it. As a teenager I sometimes read books all weekend, until my head hurt. I wear glasses. Is this because I read too much?
For my first stint at university, I majored in English literature. On a purely academic level, that was four years of bliss. I loved the opportunity to delve into and respond to Patrick White, James Joyce, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf. After graduating, it was liberating to read Nabokov, Updike and Dickens for sheer pleasure, with no essay required.
I used to have a career in retail. When it became bad, towards the end, the only thing that kept me going was the train trip, there and back again, with a book.
I used to read one book at a time; now I always have two books on the go (one fiction, one non-fiction), along with an audiobook for the car or the iDevice. I look forward to reading, always. It thrills me.
I did have ambitions to become a full-time writer. I wrote highly derivative science-fiction stories as a teenager, on our Commodore 64 and printed by dot matrix. I tried a short novel once. It has good parts and nice passages and I’m proud of it. But I have always found it very difficult to concoct a narrative. I admire narrative by others, and I often imagine and dream up adaptations of books into films. Right now I’m working on a screen treatment of Captain Scott’s last expedition: a fabulous story and an instant adventure.
It is fortunate to be a teacher who loves books and writing. I find it easy to teach literacy, because as my students learn, I learn.