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mum sent me this article by Mem Fox in today’s SMH about the importance of reading to children from a very early age, not just to promote literacy, but because “[s]haring a book with a child is an enchanted time, a time away from the workaday world, a time when parents and children fall in love with each other.”

i am sure i’ve inherited my love of reading from my mum. we’ve always had books, and lots of them. but it really did forge a closeness i think, that nightly reading ritual. i cherish the memories of snuggling up in bed with her (and often my brother too), hearing her voice, staring at the pictures, being warm and feeling safe. my brother was snuggling up to have stories read to him late into primary school…something about that feeling of security when everything else feels unsure. at least you know you’ll always have that half hour with mum just before bedtime, and whatever happened during the day will just slip away for a time.

but back to books. i can’t throw books away. i have three large bookshelves full, and even though they get dusty and take up lots of space, i need to have them out of boxes and there for me to look at. now i’m at the point where i almost don’t believe that there are people who don’t read for pleasure. when i go to someone’s house and there are no books anywhere…well i try not to make snap judgements but let’s just say it makes me a little wary. the world around us is made up of so much text – when you’re out walking around the city, for example, try and find anywhere to look that doesn’t contain some text, it’s almost impossible – and reading is just such second nature to me i don’t understand people who just shrug and say “i don’t read” (and there are lots of them).

that sounds so snobbish. but you’ll either know what i mean, or you won’t. there are people who read, and there are people who…don’t. it’s not that they can’t, it’s just that they find no joy in doing so. is it because they’ve never found that magic book that changes everything for them? or they really, honestly, just don’t care for reading at all? (much like i’m sure there are some people who would be horrified that i a) don’t know the rules of cricket or rugby league or any sport for that matter, and b) don’t care.)

i’ve had friends who act like i’m elitist because i read and because of all the books i have, and yet there are others who head straight for the bookshelves when they walk in the door to see what they can plunder. i don’t think it’s elitist in the slightest to enjoy reading. i’m not saying you have to read only Worthy Books – believe me, i’ve tried and failed many times*. these days i tend to just go for things i know i will enjoy until a time when the worthier books appeal a bit more.

but to be able to escape into other worlds, to consume words, to learn about other people and other places and to use your imagination – there’s no other medium that works quite the same way. you can appreciate film, but you’re only seeing what the filmmaker wants you to see. plays are a prime example of the power of the word – i have had a play of mine staged a few times and each time the production has been completely different. words on the page contain endless possibilities.

so thank you mum for your legacy to me. i treasure the books we read together and one day i hope i can pass them on to a child of mine. (along the left are the covers of some of my treasured childhood books, though there are some notable omissions such as ‘the world is round’ by joan berg victor, which i can’t find anywhere and seems to be not only out of print but not in existence anywhere on the web. when i get a chance i might scan in a couple of my favourite pictures, because it was definitely one of the best and most read that i owned)

* there are a few things that kill reading for me:

  • depression and grief can be real reading-killers; at the worst of my long-term depression it was hard to absorb anything more complicated than the newspaper, and even then sometimes i didn’t have the patience for it. mum went through the same thing when her partner died.
  • another issue for me was doing an MA in literature/creative writing – i just got so sick of people being overly pretentious that i swung the other way and read nothing but fluff for ages.
  • i hate to say it, cos it’s pretty superficial, but layout and design can really either appeal or turn me off. this has its upsides and downsides. i find that if i pick up older paperbacks, especially of ‘classic’ novels that may be brilliant for all i know, where the font size is small, the type all set very close together with small margins, i can only get through a few pages and then give up. and yet sometimes i persevere with the crappiest more contemporary books (especially trade paperbacks, which are the bigger sized paperbacks they release when a book first comes out) for much longer than i should because the clean, bright white paper stock, wide margins and more accessible type setting make them easier to read. it sounds pedantic, but it’s actually a pretty basic point. this is why i get really annoyed when publishers reprint books with brand new covers and you think you’re going to get a whole new, beautifully laid-out book and the innards are still on the old, coarse stock with the old, cramped typesetting. cheating!
  • i love knowing about what other people read and what sets their imaginations alight. but when someone tells me i absolutely have to read something, it usually turns me off until i have time to come around to it myself. this is a problem when people lend me books that i never asked for and refuse to take them back until i’ve read them. this usually means they don’t get their books back for ages. and yet sometimes when i eventually come around, i realise they were right all along (this was the case with ruth park, terry pratchett and robin hobb especially).