Is it possible to gauge the influence reading exerts over us during the course of our lives? Think back to the first books you ever read as a child. Do you still remember them? Have you read those same books as an adult and still found those same ideas grabbing you just as they did that first time?
I can remember my mother reading The Wind in the Willows to me when I was a very young child. I know the house we were living in at the time, so I know I was only 6 or 7. I can remember that sometimes I was bored, sometimes I couldn’t find my way through the complex language to the story inside. But I always wanted to hear more, I always longed for the next chapter, begged her not to stop reading. I can remember thinking, when I’m older I can read and read and read and never stop. In fact, I often got into trouble both at home and at school for doing exactly that. I can remember reading fairy stories from a huge colourful book, to the poor guy who came to mend the boiler, when I was no more than 5 or 6. I remember I loved to read about pixies and elves and fairies, all living in little toadstool houses or hollow trees with brightly painted doors and a polished door-knocker. How I wanted to live in a house in a hollow tree in the middle of a forest!
I can remember being so inspired by these stories that I started writing my own. They weren’t very long, usually about a page to begin with, and they weren’t very original or interesting. But spinning stories from my imagination, I loved to do that so much.
The books that have shaped my life? I shared some of my favourite books in a recent blog post. You can read it here, if you wish. I loved Treasure Island, Jane Eyre, the Famous Five, the Lone Pine Five, all the usual books that kids in the 1960s read. The Ann of Green Gables books by L M Montgomery were very special to me, as were the Little House on the Prairie books. The Wind in the Willows taught me that children’s stories don’t have to be facile. Shakespeare’s plays taught me that I have a brain and I’m not afraid to use it. Enid Blyton’s books showed me that being nosy is a sure way to get into trouble and end up tied up in a cellar (but, oh the adventure!).
Over the years, many, many books taught me to believe I could write, whilst their authors, people like Agatha Christie, Tom Holt, Jasper Fforde and Patricia Wentworth taught me what I wanted to write and that you don’t have to be highbrow or obscure to be a good writer. Books made me take that leap of faith: try, experiment, and when things didn’t work out, I had somewhere to go to recover. If all else fails, they make a bloody huge pile you can hide behind.
But over all of this, the books themselves, crowding about me like friends, took over my life to the detriment of all else, apart from my family, and I can honestly say that nine times out of ten, I’d sooner spend my money on a book than a bar of chocolate, and those who know me know that is really saying something. Plus bear in mind, chocolate is a paltry moment-on-the-lips purchase, whereas books can last forever.
Books made me who I am and I am soooo grateful that they did. So please read to your children, your nephews, your nieces, your grandkids. It is the biggest gift you can give them.