I’m sure anyone who has been following my blog for a while will know reading has always been one of my life’s delights. I’ve shared some of that joy through blog posts such as Widdershins, Holding the Centre, Revisiting Brideshead, The Book Thief, or Audiobooks, E-books and Old Friends
I don’t remember the process of learning to read. But I actually do remember not being able to read. And I have the evidence! :)
Two of the books on my laden bookshelves are the very first two books I ever owned. One is a collection of nursery rhymes, with gorgeous illustrations by Hilda Boswell. The other is a book of stories about a family of teddy bears: The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, with images by Dutch illustrator Willy Schermelé.
I still have a very clear memory of only seeing the pictures . Large slabs of each page (the text) meant nothing to me. But the illustrations – Hilda Boswell’s in particular – were a wonder-filled world to explore while the nursery rhymes or stories were read aloud to me. I can actually remember that time when I needed an adult’s voice to interpret and share the stories that went with the pictures.
I was very lucky! In the words of the poet:
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be –
I had a mother who read to me.
At different times in my life, for bursts of time anyway, I’ve kept a record of of what I’ve been reading. I still have some of those lists and it’s almost as fascinating to revisit those as it is to re-read old diaries!
For example … that list of non-fiction titles right there reminds me about a new idea I was exploring. And those titles over here? Why, I remember I’d picked those out to read because of a major change my life was going through at the time. And what about these childhood favourites I was obviously re-reading? Hmm, I can’t have been feeling well that week – possibly a lousy cold or something like that. When I’m feeling crook I always take time out, either in bed or on the couch, with some ‘comfort reading’ to keep me company. :)
Years ago a reading record was an exercise book in which I made entries by hand, armed with a pen and five coloured pencils. I shaded each entry according to a score from 1 to 5 – from loved it through to hated it so didn’t bother to finish it.
Nowadays my ‘reading record’ is kept electronically by means of an online book service and a smartphone app. My current system of choice is Goodreads linked to Book Catalogue on my Android phone **. I love the fact that, when I’m in a bookshop and trying to be strict with my budget, I can simply scan a book’s barcode into Book Catalogue on my phone and instantly add the title to my ever-growing “I Want to Read” list.
But whatever the method I use to track what I’m reading, want to read or have read (or indeed whether I’m actually tracking my reading at all at the time) books have always remained a constant in my life. Whether I’m holding an actual book or reading or listening to its digital equivalent doesn’t really matter. I can be enthralled, educated, entertained or enchanted. Sometimes my ideas can be affirmed or sometimes – even better – I’m challenged to rethink and revise my world view. And sometimes I don’t need to think much at all. I simply escape for a while, leaving behind day to day stresses or drudgery, and re-emerge later feeling refreshed and re-energized.
I’ve already shared a piece I discovered about books being “the world’s memory“. Recently I came across another wonderful description …
Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print. (Barbara Tuchman, 1912-1989)
This gets a resounding ‘YES’ from me!
** Note: I’ve no affiliation with either Goodreads or Book Catalogue. I am simply a happy user of both.