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.
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.
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.
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. On 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. I 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:
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!
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?
My debut novel is available. You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here.