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Life Chez Dee Episode #45: Reading

I so very often go on about how much I love words, language, words articulated so beautifully, inspirationally, emotionally. I love written words, spoken words, song words, narratives, monologues. Words which resonate with me completely, really stay with me. Words which offer comfort, love or even hurt. Words which offer an insight into someone’s soul. I love sayings, expressions and words of wisdom as well as rhyme and song. Words are incredibly powerful, they stay with you forever. It is said “You are what you read”.

I love words, and the use of language so much, and really am at a loss as to why it has taken me so long to for me to discover my love of writing. And because I love writing so much, I do wonder why am I not an avid reader? I have been known to read the odd book or two, and those books I have read avidly, I have thoroughly enjoyed. But I don’t turn to reading either naturally or habitually, as a hobby or as a pleasure. Is this because I’ve not found the right literature? Is this because I don’t really have much spare time, and would rather spend my spare time in other ways, for example writing? I have on occasions found the right literature to grab my attention and imagination, and have been totally absorbed.

The books which I have deeply loved, have always stayed with me. They have captured my imagination to a degree that they have become a part of me, and have stayed with me forever. Those who are avid bookreaders will have dozens of books they feel this way about, and they will probably roll their eyes at the books I list below, which I feel deserve a mention.

So the first book which must appear in a favourites list for me is Brideshead Revisited – probably my favourite book of all time, for the reasons listed above. Not only was I completely and utterly absorbed in the words, imagining I was living and breathing that story, like I was actually inside the book itself, there with the narrator every chapter, every page, every word. Narrated so beautifully it left me hanging on every word. Even the TV adaptation … the proper full version … Jeremy Irons speaking the words so gently, eloquently, reeling me in to patiently listen to the descriptive language he so beautifully narrates. Totally sublime.

Another of my favourites was the incredible “The Incredible Journey”. Again there is beautiful descriptive language throughout this book, page after page. I really believed I was alongside the animals on their perilous journey home. Of course, I also had a soft spot for the English Bull Terrier in it, as we owned one of these dogs when I was a child. Such a lovely breed of dog for a family, very funny, very boisterous and very daft, and the character of the dog really resonated with me personally and evoked many beautiful memories.

Another favourite has to be Swallows and Amazons, where I can be lost in my imagination in a most beautiful part of the country … The Lake District. Again I was drawn into this book and wanted to be on Wild Cat island having those adventures … didn’t like the books he wrote about Norfolk though.

I suppose I’m rather a romantic at heart, longing for idyllic times, places, life … longing for those descriptions in fictional stories to actually be a reality. I think I’ll always love children’s books, and I still talk with love of Heidi, Peter Pan, The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, Blyton’s Famous Five, and pretty much all that Dahl has written.

Changing tack I went through a period of reading Agatha Christie … Hercule Poirot being my favourite detective. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has to be up there as one of my favourites by Christie. I remember borrowing this from the library, never owned a copy of it until recently. I know Justin has read it and I’m not sure he’s that keen at all, so there you go … each to their own … it just goes to show how everyone gets something different out of a story.

My next three choices are of books of which there are many in a series. A Series of Unfortunate Events has to be one of my favourite book collections. It’s so wonderfully written, incredibly easy reading, yet incredibly compelling. I loved all 13 of the books the first time, and am thoroughly enjoying rereading them with Oliver now.

Another collection of books which must feature is the Harry Potter books. I remember the first time I read the first book, HP and the Philosopher’s Stone. I have a copy, with an adult version cover on it. We bought it way before all the HP hype started, based on a recommendation in one of the Sunday papers. Both myself and J read this whilst on holiday and were hooked. Ever since, we made sure we bought the other books in the series on the days they were released. The Order of the Phoenix book came out whilst we were on holiday on the Isle of Skye, and I remember going to the local shop to purchase a copy, and it being a misprint. A few of the pages in the book were duplicated. In hindsight, I wish we’d kept hold of a copy of this, it may be worth something now.

I’ve enjoyed many of Nick Hornby’s books, except for Fever Pitch, and I think if I had to pick High Fidelity would be my favourite, which is rather funny that I choose this to appear in my list of favourites, when the book itself is based around leading character Rob’s many top ten lists. And I don’t think I could finish a favourites list without including The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, which I remember reading cover to cover on a very wet holiday to Scotland … maybe it’s the memories of the holiday which this book prompts which causes me to give this a special mention. Who knows the reasons for why some books are special to some, and not others.

I talk about these books now because they have touched me in a way that many other books haven’t, and there isn’t really a pattern to it. There’s no theme and they’re not similar in genre … so what is it about these books which has grabbed me, which others have failed to do?

Why when I’ve loved these so much do I not strive to seek out other books and stories which do the same? I really don’t know. All I do know is that I need to read more. I spend so many times lecturing the boys about how reading is so important. It is what everything hangs on. Even if you don’t go on to study literature, reading will help you with every subject. Speed of reading, and ability to understand and analyse, and process, and remember. It will give you such a wide general knowledge.

I have wondered sometimes about joining a book club, but I don’t think I would enjoy it .. and I’ll tell you why. I don’t read enough to want to be swayed into trying other people’s choices. I know that’s a rather blinkered belief of mine, but I’m so picky when it comes to books, I really need to find books myself; I need to happen on a book and feel compelled to read, rather than being coaxed into someone else’s choice. I did join a book club at work once … and I have to say that some of the choices were far too high brow for me (sorry Allan). One which springs to mind was Atonement which I disliked profusely … and I didn’t much care for the film they made of it either to be honest. I know it won lots of prizes, but maybe the books which win the prizes are just not my cup of tea. I do remember one choice by my colleague Edward, which I rather enjoyed, being Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a book I really would never have picked out for myself, so I’ve already contradicted myself there. I think myself and Edward disappointed a few when we decided upon Bridget Jones’ Diary! One of my choices of books did meet with much approval though: Into Thin Air, which I think is my favourite real life story (although I must say that Helen Keller’s teacher, for me, is a close second). The story of the Everest disaster, I was prompted to read about this after watching the Everest film at IMAX many years ago. I was so mesmerised by this story, hungry for more, that I read this book and could not put it down. A rather lovely touch by Allan (who ran the book club at work) was to produce a bookmark for each book read at this lunchtime club, and I still have the bookmark which was made by Allan for Into Thin Air.

I’ve set Oliver a challenge. A friend of mine has set her son a challenge to read 100 books and then there will be talk of a fairly significant reward … something he’s wished for for such a long time. I thought I’d take this tack with Oliver, to see if he’d rise to the same challenge … and he has. Already he’s started to tick them off the chart. He’s got designs on a racing bike as his prize, hence why the book challenge requires some meatier reading than the small school reading books. It was so lovely that this week he was recognised for all his reading efforts by his class teacher with a “Pride of Clifton” certificate, and as such was invited to the Headteacher’s tea party on Friday.

I thought that I should also have a challenge, and therefore I’ve agreed that whenever Oliver sits down to read, I will do so too. Hopefully it will ignite something within me too, but even if it doesn’t, it will do me no harm at all, and will help me with speed reading, understanding, absorption of fact and general knowledge, so all good.

Justin is an avid reader … always his nose in a book; William too, from being knee high he’d sit in book shops reading the books on the shelves. In the library he’d sit in a corner reading on his own rather than listening to the librarian reading her choice of book at storytime. Books, books and more books he’d read, and we’d have to go to so many different libraries so that he could have a greater choice from which to pick from. I’d call that an avid reader, although this year I’d say that’s slipped somewhat and there’s a bit too much time spent on laptop, phone and other gadgets. But he has read so much, and I know this has a lot to do with why he has done so well in school, why he is extremely intelligent and articulate, why he has such a grasp of the language, and why he has such a fantastic general knowledge. I know he needs to up his game again in the run up to his A level mocks. There is so much background reading which he needs to do for this, and which is not quick reading by anyone’s standards. Certainly the books on his reading list would NEVER appear in my reading list that’s a fact. And so this evening as William finishes his book “Plutarch’s Parallel Lives”, I will sit and read my latest Nick Hornby book, Funny Girl.

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