I’ve talked about my writing journey before but how about the reading one? Do you remember which book you first read by yourself or the one that was always read to you as a child because it was your favourite?
I can’t remember what was the first book I read myself though it wouldn’t surprise me if it was a picture book. Once you pick up a few words, going through a picture book to find those words for yourself because you can now read them, is special. This is yet another reason why a well produced picture book is important in a child’s reading development. They build confidence in reading and with that comes the wish to read other things. A child that lacks confidence in reading will be reluctant to try something they don’t already know.
Starting out with a love of fairytales
I recall spending hours reading and re-reading The Reader’s Digest Book of Fairytales and the wonderful coloured illustrations were a huge draw (pun intended!). I suspect since my favourite fairytale remains Cinderella, it was probably read to me a lot as a child.
I remember being stunned when I first read The Little Mermaid by Hans Christen Andersen. Hey, what happened to the traditional happy ever after ending, Hans? It is a great, emotional story and was probably my first introduction to the idea life doesn’t always work out the way you hope it will. That is, and always will be, a timely message.
Fairytales are a great way of conveying messages and of course do so in a more palatable form than just telling someone. The point is strengthened, I think, by the fact you have to work out for yourself if Character A hadn’t been such an idiot, they wouldn’t have ended up in the mess they did.
Books I Have Loved
I recall trying to read The Hobbit when I was about 8 but couldn’t get into it then. (I am still at a loss as to how they made three films out of one relatively short novel, but that’s another matter!). The same applied to Watership Down. I must try those again as I know I’d almost certainly love both books now.
But my big childhood favourite was The Famous Five by Enid Blyton, I also loved Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I identified with both Blyton’s character of George and Alcott’s portrayal of Jo March, especially when she became a writer. I’d identify with that even more now!
When I went on to “grown up” books, I discovered Agatha Christie (and I still have many of her novels and short story collections). I also recommend her autobiography simply called An Autobiography as it is a gripping read though there is no mention of her famous disappearance and resurfacing from that in a Harrogate Hotel.
From there it was on to Jane Austen and P. G. Wodehouse and later Terry Pratchett. And The Lord of the Rings by Tolkein was a real eye-opener because it was the first time I came across a story on such an epic scale and I had to keep reading to find out if Frodo did succeed in his mission.
The Daughter of Time
Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time remains the only book to make me change my thoughts on Richard III (I can’t think of any other novel that has made me change my mind on anything!) and I loved the way it combined historical fact with a story of an “investigation” carried out by the injured detective’s hospital bed. (How to tell times have changed by the way – in the story Inspector Alan Grant is injured thanks to falling down a hole in pursuit of a criminal. He’s laid up for weeks in hospital. Not these days. They’d have him up and moving quickly – they’d want the bed!).
But this book was another eye-opener in challenging my preconceptions about Richard III and in what could be done with fiction. Now the term “faction” can be used for stories which are based on or bring in facts as part of the narrative. Mixing real people with fiction is more common now but you could argue Tey was ahead of her time here.
In more recent times I’ve developed a taste for non-fiction. Simon Schama’s wonderful History of Britain made a great TV series but were even better books.
The way I’ve read books has changed too with the advent of the Kindle. I often use the latter to try out books I think I’ll like but am not sure about and have discovered many great books as a result. Nor do they take up room on my busy bookshelves! Another great way of doing that, of course, is to explore the volumes in our lovely local libraries. I spent many a happy hour at libraries when I was in my teens. Book nerd? You bet! Still am too.
What I’d like to read
I inherited my mother’s wonderful collection of Charles Dickens’ novels and collections. I’ve read some but there are many I haven’t so those are on my To Be Read pile.
The first Dickens I read was Oliver Twist thanks to watching the film version with Alec Guinness as Fagin. I simply had to read the book and was enthralled again (Guinness was great but so was Oliver Reed as Bill Sykes and very convincing in the role too).
I was delighted to discover Catch-22 in amongst my mother’s books. I was surprised to find this as, although she had wide reading tastes (I’ve also got her H.G. Wells collection), she didn’t go in for funny books. It was her one blind spot in fiction. There are also Daphne Du Maurier novels to catch up on so I’m not going to be short of reading material for some time!
I’ve been enjoying Peter Ackroyd’s biography of London, which is a good read. The idea of writing a history of a city as a biography is what attracted me to the book and it works well. I also like the Ben McIntyre books and Operation Mincemeat is a great read.
What has been lovely over the years is that a number of books on my shelves are by writing friends (some of whom I’ve interviewed for CFT) and of course every time I see those books, I think of my friends. Am looking forward to catching up with many of them once again at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in August.
Oh and that recent comment on social media about “ideally you should have fewer than 30 books”, I dismissed at once. No way! I’ve more that that on my Kindle alone but every one of the books I have, in electronic or print form, have meanings for me beyond enjoying the stories in and of themselves. Those meanings are personal and for me you don’t just throw things like that out.
The lovely thing about reading is your journey continues. Nobody says you have to stick to one genre. It’s my view you definitely shouldn’t! There’s a whole world of topics in non-fiction to explore too. So what are your favourite books and why? How has your reading developed/changed over the years and what fuelled that change? Comments as ever are welcome!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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