This week my youngest daughter finished her first real novel, The Tale of Despereaux. She read most of it, and I read a few chapters to her each night before bed. It is a big achievement for her, and tonight, we will start another book, one of my favorites, The Hobbit. She can’t wait…
I’m so happy that she likes to read. One of the chief pleasures of my life is to lose myself in the pages of a good book, and it all started so long ago as a very young tacker. It was the last day of Grade One, 1972, and as we wheeled into class on that hot, humid morning at East Innisfail State School, I saw a book rack full of Little Golden Books. After a year of reading Dick and Dora books, the end of year gift from the school was the choice of a Little Golden Book for each student.
One of the benefits of having your surname start with a ‘B’ is that you are usually called up among the first group to be awarded anything. One of the downsides of having your surname start with a ‘B’ is that you are usually called up among the first group to be given work, punishment, or to give a talk, or be volunteered for some horrible task…
So, I was among the first of my class to approach the bookstand, and my lovely teacher Mrs. Moya (?) spun the display stand and told me to select one book. I saw it immediately and my little hand shot out and grabbed, ‘Scuppers The Sailor Dog’. I’ve still got it. It’s a great read. The opening line had me from the start: Born on a ship in the teeth of a gale, was Scuppers, the sailor dog.
He goes on to have all sorts of adventures, gets shipwrecked, survives, adapts, and overcomes. He’s a real adventurer our Scuppers. I’ve read his story to my girls numerous times over the years, but they remain unimpressed. Preferring the classics, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White etc.
In later years another teacher (her name lost in the mists of time) told us that we should read at least one novel a week. I did. I continue to do so. I can’t remember a time without a book nearby. The nights I have gone to bed without reading are few and far between.
Some of the titles have stayed with me: Kidnapped, Pirates’ Island (not about pirates at all but about some Cockney kids having an adventure in the Thames… quite good), Treasure Island (still got a nautical ‘islandy’ theme here!), the poetry of Henry Lawson (doesn’t evey eight year old fall in love with Harry?!), Captain Midnight and his talking cat, Walkabout with Rolf Harris, Colin Thiele (Bluefin and Stormboy), Childcraft Encylopaedia stories, Bedtime Bible stories, and thousands of cartoon books filled the gaps: Archie, Crock, B.C., Hagar, Asterix, Snoopy, Tin Tin, Mad Magazine, and so help me, Richie Rich, Casper, and Hot Stuff (the little devil).
I had friends who had the same love of reading, and many happy memories of long afternoons whiled away with a mate, each of us lost in our books or comics, then spending time discussing them afterwards… obviously I needed help! Is this normal? I read everything. Anything. Anywhere, Anytime. Backs of calendars, match boxes, National Geographics (drool), cereal packets. Apart from TV there is nothing in my life that I’m so passionate about.
Books taught me about the big, wide world. They made me laugh, and sometimes cry. I’ve trekked through strange lands, faced numerous foes, overcome tremendous obstacles, sailed the oceans, dived their depths, visited space, and been on viking raids. Have been left elated, shocked, saddened, breathless, terrified and inspired. To me, Hell would be a place without books.
My favourite all time read? I was 13, short, and harrassed in high school. Like all misfits, I wound up joining the local wargames club. During the week I might have been bullied and harangued, but on Saturday afternoons I was ‘Greg the Conqueror’, marching my plastic armies to victory across the gaming tables in the school auditorium. It was here that I was introduced to the fantasy genre at the start of the Dungeons and Dragons era.
I read Conan, Cormack McArt, Julian May, Stephen Donaldson, David Eddings, novels and short stories. But the start of it, the book that preceded and topped them all was, ‘The Hobbit’. I was in Grade 8, when I was tossed a dog eared copy one Friday afternoon after school. I finished it just after midnight. Tears were rolling down my face as I put it down. The next morning I got up, made breakfast and started reading it again. By the end of the weekend, I had read it three times. When I handed it back to my mate on Monday morning he asked, “What did you think?”
I was effusive in my praise, and said, “It’s a shame the story had to end!”
He laughed, then handed me the thick, one volume copy, of Lord of the Rings, “It gets better,” he said. Four sleepless days later I gave it back to him. It was the greatest read of my young life. It still is. Every year, around June, I drag out my four hard back copies, and re-read them all. Winter is the best time to enjoy these books. Tolkien is obviously The Master (and let us never ever mention the travesty that the Peter Jackson movies made of these books again!)
Then in the mid-eighties, my one armed mate Steve, (or Bandit as the rest of the world knows him as: short for ‘one armed bandit’) gave me his brand new copy of The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett. Another love affair began that day, and has continued since as Mr. Pratchett expands his ever growing list of novels. Many of which I re-read each year as well.
In between the re-reads I’ve dabbled with other authors and genre’s. Romances, biographies, motivational books, sci fi, and historical literature. For a further run down on my thoughts on those books, dear reader, you’ll have to wait until the next post 🙂
By then I’ll be able to tell you if the little one liked The Hobbit, geez I hope she does, because that’s what I’ll be reading to her for the next couple of weeks… wether she likes it or not!