In my newspaper of choice, the literary review section includes a Q&A Interview with famous authors, asking about their favourite/worst/most moving/most influential books. It includes a question about the author’s earliest reading memories. Reading the interview this weekend made me wonder about my earliest reading memories, and I realised that I had a few that I could choose from. As far back as I can remember, I have loved books and reading, so much so that the memories have stuck with me through the years.
I remember my Ladybird storybooks, and making up my own stories to go with the pictures because I could not read the words. I’m sure I remember being disappointed that the real stories were not as exciting as my own creations.
I remember being told I could have the privilege of an extra half an hour to read in bed, and gathering up a huge pile of books to read, and being surprised that I only had enough time to read one of them.
I remember imagining a cardboard box was a typewriter so I could write my own stories. This led to me getting my first typewriter when I was six.
I remember picking up a novel that my mum was reading, being intrigued by the title, and realising that the words inside, although smaller and more abundant, were still words that I could read, and so I started reading it, to my mum’s surprise. This was definitely before I was seven.
These memories are just the start of my relationship with books. And later, when children of my own came along, they brought a whole new dimension to that. When we had our children, my husband and I filled our home with books for them. Reading with them, even when they were babies, was something that was really important to us, and I’m they benefited from that. And I benefited too, as it added to my stock of memories in so many new and wonderful ways; having to stop reading the end of Charlotte’s Web to my eldest because I was weeping too much; my youngest being too scared to finish Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; a book called Kiss Goodnight Sam that my middle child had every night, to which she added her own silly voices. I wonder what their earliest reading memories will be; maybe the weekly trips to story time at the library, or the evening routines of letting them choose the reading matter while they had their bedtime drink of milk. There are so many distractions and alternatives to reading these days, but I am happy that my children already have their own relationships with books.
All these memories, old and new, make up a part of the story of my relationship with books. I can’t imagine life without books. And yet, I know this is a precious gift. Recently, as part of my job, I have been taking part in training to enable us to improve the literacy of older children – children who have got through first school and have still not mastered the skill of decoding those squiggly black shapes on the page that make up words. Basically, we have been learning how to teach these children to read. For someone like me, for whom reading is not just a skill but a passion, it is a tragedy that some people find reading a mystery and a struggle. I know that being unable to read can have long-lasting effects on a person’s whole life, and I want to do anything I can to change that while there is still that chance. But it means more to me than just that. I know that not everyone enjoys reading, but what if the barrier to enjoying reading was simply the lack of ability? What if helping children decipher those black squiggles led them to something they could enjoy, maybe even be passionate about? I would be proud to be part of their reading memories, but it would make me even happier to think that they might share this with their own children and add to the next generation of reading memories. That would be the greatest goal of all.