Early Reader

For me the impulse to read crops up all over the place. I can’t get enough of it. Every hour spent going about my daily business is an intrusion on my reading. Let me alone, let me retreat from this conversation, this lunch, this class, interview or workout, and read. Everywhere is the perfect spot for it. I have been known to read while walking in the street. But in NYC that’s considered dangerous so I’ve had to stop that.

For me the impulse to read crops up everywhere

Stop and Read

 

I grew up an anomaly, the only reader in the family. My cousins thought it weird that I would suggest reading in favor of dolls and board games or the raucous variations on the game of Catch that they looked forward to playing when we were all together, one big group. The extent of my father’s reading went to checking the oil level when the tractor engine sounded off; my mum could read pattern pieces blindfolded but had no time for books, busy as she was sewing those pattern pieces together to make a living; the first book my brother read since his schooldays was my novel last year. I was flabbergasted he persevered. They have never felt their lives have been missing anything. I, on the other hand, don’t know how they can never pick up a book. They just wouldn’t think of it. I think of little else.

I am Alice and books are the wonderland I sometimes return from but only for brief spells.

Where am I, she wonders...

Where am I? she wonders…

My mum probably thought I was a lazy lump lying about all over the house during my teenage years with a book to my nose when there was dusting to be done, vacuuming, spuds to peel, clothes to hang out before the rain came on. Yet she is the one I credit with introducing me to reading. You see, she used the town library as a sort of child minding service. During some periods she held three different jobs and wasn’t able to pick me up after school on time. She told me to go to the library because I could “get up to no devilment there”. Several times a week I walked down the hill towards the cenotaph in the centre of town, turned left at the shoe shop, passed the single screen cinema and there was the library on the right beside the jewellers. I pushed open the double doors of the nondescript red brick flat roofed building and plodded happily towards the children’s section. I worked quickly: Mallory Towers, St Clare’s, The Famous Five, The Secret Seven.

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Having exhausted those shelves I sidled over to the teens section and discovered the Sweet Dreams series of teen romances. I fed on them, greedy to understand the complicated dynamics of jocks and cheerleaders in American high schools in places with funny names like Illinois or Massachusetts. That tweenage period must be responsible for killing all interest in reading romance novels ever since.  3325097On the next shelf, I met the Sweet Valley High twins, Jessica and Elizabeth, and admired their beauty and sisterly camaraderie and, shocked at the catty antics of their classmates, decided my high school wasn’t so bad after all. sweet_valley_high_04_power_playI read my way through every small town high school from one side of America to the other. Hmmmph, what now? I must have wondered when I eventually looked up and realized I was in Cookstown, not California.

I had been surreptitiously eyeing the adult section for some time. One afternoon I hid behind a carousel of detective paperbacks (the librarian was stern and forbade young readers to enter the adult section––ever vigilant Catholics saving young souls from the brink) I slid a chunky grey book out from a shelf of hardbacks and opened it a random page. I had only read a few lines when I found myself immersed in a detailed description of a young man’s eyepopping predicament: whole live snails were slithering in and out of his mouth in great rushes and he was struggling not to swallow them. I slammed the book shut and forced it tight between the other books, as if to squash the snails. Good God! Now I knew what bad books lay across the great divide between youth and adulthood. I promptly returned to the Enid Blyton assortment and reread some favorites. To this day, the memory of that passage makes me shudder––I have no idea of the book.

My need for more challenging reads however led me back to the spinning carousel I had hidden behind which contained years of well-thumbed and yellow-paged Agatha Christie mysteries. I explored them in a matter of months, then on to the section which seemed to attract adults and young alike but which didn’t seem to perturb the stern librarian. It was marked Classics.

Wuthering Heights, what a title! I would trek to that decrepit summit. Vaguely merging the novel with the Kate Bush song, I imagined Cathy’s moors when I studied the view from my bedroom window:

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I am Cathy

The image of Miss Havisham in her wedding dress going up in a ball of flames thrilled me then and equally does so today. I read Catcher in the Rye and didn’t know what to make of it. I read I Capture the Castle and longed for a dilapidated mansion to rumble around in, reflective but precocious, just like Cassandra. I read Pride and Prejudice and wondered why any of those sisters had to get married in the first place, then read Little Women and thought the same thing. Especially Jo. Oh what an idea that a portrait could age while its subject, Dorian, remains forever young!

Just take a left here for the library, you can't miss it.

Just take a left here for the library, you can’t miss it.

The library no longer has spinning carousels and has much fewer shelves but is equipped with banks of computers. So I’ve heard. I haven’t been in years. My mum is proud that I wrote a book and mentions it when she bumps into friends in town. Last I heard, it’s available from the town’s only bookstore, Sheehy’s, next to the butchers

I don’t think I ever told my mum she’s the reason I got into books in the first place. I’ll do so the next time she wonders where I get the writing bug from. She won’t hear about it here because she doesn’t read my blog either. She’s still too busy for that sort of thing.

 

Are you a big reader and if so who is responsible? And if you’re not, is there someone responsible for that too?

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My debut novel is available. You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here.

 

19 comments

  1. We were a family of readers (even though I had a very slow start). My brothers,Dad and I still favor Science Fiction — Mom, the newspaper and magazines. This post is about my slow start…
    http://dievca.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/something-odd-learning-to-read-with-charlotte-olympia-shoes/

  2. I adore reading but find it hard to carve out the time to do so…
    but I realize that no matter how long my list of excuses is…
    it all comes down to the fact that I “yearn” to read more…
    and I miss being a book-induced Alice in Wonderland…
    so I’ve invested in a much larger and stylish tea cup…
    and have returned to the land of portable magic…
    currently via Silk for the Feed Dog~ xo
    “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
    ― Stephen King

    • The layout of this comment is very stylish, like a poem. I would expect nothing less from you, of course.
      I’m thrilled that you are being transported by my novel. I’m visualizing you sitting cross-legged on a little silk magic carpet rising into the air 🙂 Up, up and away, she’s reading..! xo

  3. I always wished someone would pay me to stay home and read. There is always a book with me, wherever I am. I do not come from a family of readers either but my dad always encouraged my passion. To this day, the best present I have ever received was on my 13th birthday when he came home with a giant case filled with books. I don’t think that sense of wonder and happiness could ever be replicated. (on hindisight he probably got tired of taking me to the bookstore every week or so and thought he would kill two birds with one stone. Still, can’t beat the feeling of receiving it).

    • A giant case filled with books is a heartfelt gift for a reader. Your dad did a lovely thing. He knew what would make you most happy and it was within his power so he got it for you 🙂

  4. dolls house blog

    I always loved reading as a child. My older brother would buy me books as presents, I couldn’t wait to see what book he had in store for me. Like you I also went to the library a few times a week when I was at school – I loved the Sweet Valley High books they were my favourite 🙂

    • What a generous brother! I heard that Diablo Cody, the writer of Juno and The United States of Tara was making a movie out of Sweet Valley High but was very worried about doing the books justice as she grew up with them too.

  5. karen

    its funny …you made me remember this book that I read on the way home from school on the bus everyday. It was called ‘Toms midnight garden’ ….I couldn’t remember the title but with a few vague memories and the help of the internet I was reunited with my childhood favorite! ..thank you Jackie for the nudge I needed to get back into reading again ..I have been very lazy lately! xx

    • I’ve never read Tom’s Midnight Garden but the title would have got me too. Glad I’ve inspired you to find a half hour once in a while to read, Karen. That’s a nice accomplishment. xo

  6. Ooh, Mallory Towers! And St Clare’s! I loooooved those books. And I remember it as the kind of immersive reading experience that doesn’t seem to come along so often any more. Or maybe that’s just because I make the mistake of buying things like The (sodding) Goldfinch and giving up far too many hours of my life sticking with it, instead of dumping it and finding something more enjoyable…

    • I love the new title The Sodding Goldfinch… just a big wet fish! Reading as a teenager was a very different experience. Every book offered a way to privately understand our rapidly changing selves, I think, without public embarrassment or ridicule. Now that we know more about ourselves we’re harder to reach maybe, What would we think if we dipped back into those Blyton books as adults?

  7. Love this post… and I read all those titles too! I have to say, I had the sort of opposite experience though. While my mum also introduced us all to reading, my family has always been a big bunch of bookworms…you stood out more if you didn’t read, especially on summer holidays at the Port when all our cousins would stay with us in the one big house…everyone would have their nose in a book in a rainy and even a sunny day 😉 I struggle more and more though to find time to read (and write), but I blame my commute to Belfast for that and my unhealthy work patterns…I cram it in where I can but I need to redress that balance

    • Lucky you, Claire! My cousins thought I was so boring to put reading on the table where playing was involved. Cops and Robbers, Operation, Cowboys and Indians, Monopoly, Cluedo…What do you mean, read?! So I tended to keep my reading to myself…At the Port, however, watching the adults argue as they got drunk was almost better than any book. Families, eh? 🙂

  8. I was always a kid with a nose in a book..love the loos, the smell..the sheer escapism..the kids are just getting there..Bella is obsessed with the Worst Witch books..I can’t wait till it leads to more things… xxx

  9. Not a big reader but as a child I loved stories that transported me in space and time like the Greek mythology for instance, or the stories of Jules Verne… I’m reading much less now but will always make time for interesting titles like Silk for the Feed Dogs 😉

  10. Breige

    My house was full of books. I remember reading the James Herriot books when I was at primary school. I also read my mum’s nursing books and told some very disgusted classmates where babies came from when I was in P3. Sr Assumpta was less than happy.

    My granny lived opposite the library so I spent many happy hours in it. The stern librarian was Mrs Hamilton ant the two assistants were Mrs Berkley and Miss Major, no first names used. Miss Major took storytime where you got to draw on the back of A4 scrap paper that was kept in Double2 shirt boxes.

    I remember it being a white building with blue window frames but that might have just been the tech building behind it. My aunt worked in the library in Dungannon and 35yrs later works in the Cookstown branch. I always thought it would be a great job surrounded by books and getting to put them into dewey decimal order. She hates it.

    When I got my P6 class photo out there was a Bookpoint certificate in it which had been rewarded for reading a specified number of books in an allocated time. I was obviously very proud of it.

    Thanks for evoking such happy memories x

  11. How come I never knew you were a fellow bookworm, Briege? Although we understood so little about our classmates at school, only what they chose to put out there. But a belated well done for stepping in where the Catholic school system failed with regards to making babies 🙂
    I think I remember your granny living opposite the library and I have a visual of you entering her little gate.
    “Dewey decimal order” I like that.
    Happy to jog the old memory bank, Briege. Thanks for checking in with me x

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