I don’t remember learning to read. I mean, I know I did it, but I can’t recall the process. I remember watching my daughter learning to read, struggling over every word, sounding them out, with varying degrees of success.
But I don’t remember doing it myself. The earliest memory I have of reading is when I was about 8 years old, when I could already read quite well (for an 8 year old). Before that – nothing.
Well, I guess I must have learnt to read somehow.
The early days
When I was 8 years old, I was in grade 3 (in Australia). I remember sometimes we had to go up to the teacher’s desk, one by one, and read some paragraphs of our reading book to her while the other kids did some activities quietly at their own desks.
I was always so proud at this time, because I knew I was a good reader and it made the teacher happy.
Also around that time we had a big assembly at school, when all the parents came, and each class puts on some kind of performance. It must have been at the end of the school year.
Our teacher chose me to read a story from a book, while my classmates acted out the story behind me. I read the book into a microphone. I don’t remember being afraid, even though the audience was large. The only thing I remember is how much pleasure I got from reading.
As I got older I discovered the school library, as well as the public library. I was always borrowing books from both sources. I read them so quickly that I took them back to get more way before the due date.
Libraries were wonderful, and for a while my dream was to be a librarian. When I was about 9 years old, I put little pockets in the front of some of my books, with little slips of paper in, like they had in the library (only my older readers will understand what I mean, I’m sure technology has changed since then!). I didn’t have a date stamp, but I’m sure I wrote some dates on the paper, as if they had previously been ‘borrowed’ by someone.
They even had pretend dewey decimal system numbers. I stuck the book ‘number’ on the spine of the book, just like in real libraries. It’s pretty clear that even at such a young age I was already a nerd.
Reading was kind of an obsession with me. As a child I read everything I could get my hands on. I read the newspaper (except sports and finance), I read my mother’s women’s magazines, I even read the phone book! My family laughed at me one night as I lay on my stomach on the living room floor, the rest of them watching something on tv, me with the ‘Yellow Pages’ open in front of me, devouring everything I could find.
If you never looked, let me tell you, there was a lot of interesting information in the ‘Yellow Pages’!
Another book I was known to read was the dictionary. Yes, the dictionary. I loved this book! I learnt so much, so many new words, by reading the dictionary. Page after page of words and meanings. And, as a young girl, many of these words and meanings were new to me, so reading the dictionary meant that I was learning a lot of new things all at once! It wasn’t surprising then, that at the age of 12 or 13, I was the champion speller in our English class!
It wasn’t difficult for relatives to pick out a birthday or Christmas present for me – a book! Often my older sister also got a book at Christmas, but I don’t remember seeing her sitting around reading as often as I did. She had other interests.
Like the time my brothers and sisters (we had a blended step-family, which meant some weekends we had a lot of kids at home) started a fire on our farm, which got quickly out of control, because it was dried grass. My step-father had to go and do some fancy fire-fighting to prevent a disaster, and my siblings were in big trouble.
And me? In the bedroom with my nose in a book. I remember my step-father sticking his head around the door frame and saying, “Why aren’t you outside burning the farm down with the others?”
I didn’t reply, and I still don’t know if it was his sense of humour and supposed to be funny, but I kind of felt like a loser right then. It was like I was missing out on life by sitting in my room, reading all day long.
But I couldn’t help it, I loved reading.
My interest in books continued, although as my life changed, and I grew up, I didn’t always make time to read. I was always a member of the local library, though, and whenever I had time I would use it. And not only for reading novels, but for learning things.
We use the internet for knowledge these days, but back then, the library was a goldmine for information.
I got out books on all different subjects – cooking, gardening, macramé (yes!), different countries, ancient Egypt (I was very interested in this for a while), photography, and the list goes on and on.
But, of course, I also got out novels. Lots of them.
I’m the kind of person who judges a book by its cover, literally. I remember pulling each book off the shelf, and if the cover didn’t please me, back it went, without even being turned over for the summary on the back cover. No mercy for the writer, if he or she didn’t choose a good design for the cover, they were left on the shelf, literally!
My reading choices
What kind of books did I like reading? Well, just like most things in life, there’s been different stages where I’ve enjoyed reading different kinds of books.
In my teenage years I liked reading Agatha Christie, and other detective stories. I’ve always liked reading about people’s lives. Just stories about families and what they do and how they interact.
After Agatha Christie it was all about humour – Monty Python and other comedians. I found them incredibly funny at the time. Not so much now.
I went through a stage of reading self-help books (even though I don’t think I really needed help). They were interesting at the time, but it’s more what you’d call pop-psychology. ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ ring a bell with any of you? I was in my early 20s when I read that, and I thought it would save me from another dysfunctional relationship – how wrong I was! I had to let life teach me those lessons.
Then, after that I spent a few years reading kind of books you’ll find in ‘Oprah’s book club’. I enjoyed them during that period of my life, but they’re too emotional for me now. A little bit too ‘heavy’ for me.
Then it was books on astrology and all things surrounding that. Sun charts, and moon charts and other stuff that I can’t remember anything about.
That’s just a small sample of the kind of things I’ve read over the years. I can’t even remember most of what I read. But along with all of them were novels, modern and classics, sometimes detective stories, sometimes chick-lit and God knows what else I’ve read over the years.
What I read now
And, what do I read now? Living in Moscow it’s not so easy to find books in English which I’m interested in. It’s easier for me to pick up some books when I travel to another country, and there I usually buy them from charity shops (second-hand). I figure I read them so quickly, in less than a week sometimes I’ve finished a book, spending the money on a new book is an extravagance (sorry to any authors out there, I know how much time it takes to write a book).
I mostly read chick-lit these days. I know it’s not very ‘intelligent’ of me (once again, sorry to the authors who I read and love), and I could be reading something a little more ‘intellectual’, but I like to read and relax at the same time, and it’s very easy to read this kind of book in bed before sleeping.
I’ve also discovered, due to lack of other suitable reading material, the futuristic genre. About what the world will be like in the future. In some of them there’s been some kind of apocalypse, in some of them it’s just about futuristic life with new technology. But I’m surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed them and hopefully I’ll be able to get my hands on some others.
A few months ago I tried to read a Charles Dickens classic, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. I’m sure I read it in high-school, and probably did some kind of book review or something on it. I don’t know how. When I tried to read it recently, I couldn’t get past the first page.
The style of writing in classic books like Dickens makes it really hard to read. You have to concentrate, the sentences are long, the words and phrases are old fashioned – it was too hard. I put it away, knowing I’ll never attempt it again. For me, the days of classics are over.
One thing I find almost impossible, it’s reading an electronic book. I’ve tried. I can’t. I need pages to turn. Sometimes it’s necessary to flick back through the pages to remind myself of some important information about one of the characters that I missed or forgot. I need to reach the final page, close the book, and feel that wonderful satisfaction of finishing it – while still holding it in my hands.
Do you have a love affair with reading? I’d love to know what you’re reading right now. Let me know your book recommendations in the comments.