I just saw a picture of my brother’s first grandchild, Teddy, with a pile of books entirely coverering his lap. It was part of a message from his Mum announcing that she has decided to become an Usborne sales consultant.
The picture reminded me of the important place books held in my childhood and the place they hold, thanks to me, in my daughter’s life.
When I was a small child I suffered from constant, chronic asthma. I was always missing school and my Mum often had to take me along to Uni lectures and tutorials as she juggled a sick child with study.
My family are all big readers. Mum swears I taught myself to read on summer vacation in Surfer’s Paradise almost out of boredom. Mum would buy my brother and I magazines and books to keep us occupied while she and my Dad read on the beach. My father wasn’t as big a reader as the rest of the family but on vacation he read Ian Fleming, Len Deighton and John Le Carré. I would flick through picture books and picture magazines (Treasure was my favourite, Graeme had Look & Learn that had less pictures and more text). So one vacation, when I was a little over three and a half, while flicking through Treasure on the beach I apparently managed to connect the pictures and words in “Treasure” well enough to start reading.
So Mum quickly discovered that any time I was ill she could calm my anxiety or keep me amused while I was beside her in a lecture with a new book. The downside of that (well, I guess books were an expense) was that I quickly ran out of book storage. One babysitter was looking for a jacket for me and was surprised to discover that all the hanging space in my wardrobe was full of books.
When I was six, in New Lambton Heights Infants, an incredibly tiny school, they decided to give everyone a reading test and according to my Mum I came home with a letter from my teacher and said “We had a reading test and this is my result.” It seems I had a reading age of 14. Mum was a little sceptical so she gave me her introductory psychology text from Uni and had me read the first page out to her.
When I reached Primary School to improve our reading and comprehension they had these boxes of cards that contained a short few paragraphs and some questions about the text you had to answer. The teacher’s problem was that we were supposed to spend a fixed amount of time on this tasks and I had finished all the available boxes up to sixth grade by half way through the second term of third grade.
Then there was the problem of the “reading out loud” class time. I used to get so bored at the attempts of my peers that ten minutes in to the lesson I’d be ten or fifteen pages ahead and had no idea what was happening in class. This persisted into First Form (what they now call Year Seven) and then ended when school gave up trying to improve anyone’s reading.
Ever since the discovery on that Surfer’s Paradise beach books have been my constant companion, my surest friend, my solace, my joy. The greatest gift my parents ever gave me was a love of books.
Jane Austen put it well in Northanger Abbey“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid” and in Pride & Prejudice“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”