Working as I am at present has caused me to reflect and as such, consider why it is that I love reading.
I’ve always been a reader. I can remember as a young reader, when I was so engrossed in my books, my older sister would throw things at me to get my attention – thankfully there were no broken bones (or books!). As I got older, reading was just something I always did, it being perfectly natural to pick up a book, sit and read for hours. It was definitely an escape for me – not that I had an unhappy childhood; I just had a massively vivid imagination and would open the pages of a new book with joy ready for the next adventure to begin, escaping the world of school, homework and the growing pains of being a teenager.
So maybe that’s what made me fall in love with reading – the ability to transport myself to other worlds, other times and connect with new ‘people’ even if they were only between the pages of a book. My father definitely influenced my reading; giving me a ‘library’ of brand new books; ‘classic’ reads which I loved because they were beautiful leather bound books – not because I actually wanted to read them at the time! Beau Gueste, Lorna Doone, Uncle Tom’s Cabin didn’t really appeal to me – I was more into Sweet Valley High which I suppose reflected my blooming interests in all things romance and the trials & tribulations of friendships! But the thing was, I loved those actual, physical books, the idea of all those words inside, knowing these particular ‘classics’ perhaps reflected a certain intelligence and knowledge, which even though I hadn’t read yet, it was there. Just waiting.
Does our choice to read what might be determined ‘light-hearted’ or dare I say it ‘chick-lit’, demonstrate how much we love reading? Do we have to read every type of book to qualify as a true book lover? Someone once said to me ‘you don’t need to be embarrassed about being a Maeve Binchy fan’. Which I wasn’t – the fact that this was even said to me made me think, should I have been embarrassed?? I’d been given Light a Penny Candle when I was about 15 and loved the saga, the romance and all those intricately woven lives. Perhaps at the time this was a happy distraction from the books I was studying at school – Lord of the Flies (the whole Piggy thing made me feel sick) – Chaucer (the original text – no wonder I couldn’t stand anything to do with poetry for years). Reading at school for me was often far removed from any kind of pleasure; endlessly analysing a text was not fun. It was a huge chore!
Perhaps I am just a big romantic at heart. I did go on to read all Maeve Binchy’s novels, plus Rosamunde Pilcher – The Shell Seekers being my absolute favourite (you can’t beat a bit of wartime romance). At least by today’s standards, I was actually reading!! Does it mean I love books more or less because I chose those that really interested me, rather than choose what might be considered more ‘intellectually’ stimulating reads? I don’t think so; I think being able to choose independently what interests you is absolutely key to being a reader. Saying that, my Dad did keep reminding me to read the ‘classics’, so eventually I chose what looked like the thinnest one (!) from my beautiful leather bound collection, ‘Wuthering Heights’. Well. My Dad had a point…that was definitely the moment I discovered a completely different kind of reading; you can’t get better than Heathcliff and Cathy roaming the hillsides. It was an eye opener too. It created that kind of edge-of-your seat emotion I believe only reading can bring – movie buffs, I’m not denigrating the power of film – but being able to conjure up those images and feelings in your own mind, without the help of CGI or otherwise is a totally unique experience. The power of reading. So maybe this is what to love reading means – recognising that distinctive power to connect you to human emotion through stories.
Then I did move on to the ‘classics’ – The Bronte sisters, Austen, Conan Doyle, Hardy – possibly much to my father’s delight. And by now I was at college, studying English Literature (of course) so surely that meant I was a ‘proper’ book lover. Ironically, I particularly loved the analysis of the text now – not for analysis sake, but for the discussion of meaning behind the stories, the debate and opinion about the characters, the location, the plot. And perhaps this is the key to loving reading – what do the stories mean? To ourselves? To others? To the author? Do we read for reading sakes or do we read to discover meaning? It’s widely publicised that reading can have a huge impact on our health, on social development and general human interaction. It is no surprise then, that reading creates meaning and enables us to reach parts of ourselves we otherwise we would never discover.
My reading choices now reflect the work I am doing, but also my desire to challenge myself to find new stories, new ideas and new connections with the souls buried in the words of a book. I am fortunate to be doing something I love.
Maybe the why isn’t important. Maybe the important thing is that, whatever the reason, I love reading and I want children and young people to discover that too, so they can experience the feeling, the connection, the escape, that immersing yourself in a really good book can bring.