When we were growing up, my mother had a strict and unwavering rule that we spent a quiet hour reading every afternoon after lunch. I remember the usual suspects: Beatrix Potter’s magical farmyards led, in time, to Enid Blyton’s thrilling tales of the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. I envied British children their crumpets, treacle tart and heaths; their nannies and the bowler hats their fathers wore to rush off and catch the train to their offices. I was transported by descriptions of country lanes and villainous tramps. It’s quite likely that I was impossible to live with while I ran about using phrases like ‘jolly’ and asked for high tea instead of lunch. I developed a desperate wish to go to boarding school and have the illicit midnight feasts that seemed to be the main occupation of the girls on those pages.

At around the age of twelve, I was introduced to the Mary Ann books of Catherine Cookson and I began to understand that there were class barriers in the world and adults were not always kind to children. I cried for the first time because of an author’s skill and I learned much about the history of mining in Britain.

When I read, as a teen, The Drifters, I was so determined to run away from home and live the hippie life in Torremolinos that I spent the next year trying to learn Spanish from a pen friend. (A completely unsuccessful endeavour in hindsight, but I felt awfully romantic doing it).

I’m always boring friends with quotes from Quentin Crisp and tales about the impact my first reading of The Naked Civil Servant had on me; how this great gentleman taught me that it is always possible to react to whatever the universe may throw at me with grace and good manners.

Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Trollope satisfied my desire to know life before, during and after the two world wars and Leon Uris, Anne Michaels, David Grossman and Joachim Fest made me understand how important it is that we never allow the Holocaust to be forgotten.

Of Nadine Gordimer, Zakes Mda and other great writer of my own country, I will not even begin to speak. Suffice to say the list would be endless.

Reading has been such a constant in my life that I find myself unable to decide if I view it as a source of recreation, education or simply as such an important element of life; as vital as oxygen.

Related post: http://uphillwriting.org/2010/07/02/a-reason-to-read-again/


12 Comments Add yours

  1. deepercolors says:

    Sounds like a wonderful childhood memory. I read a lot, but to get away from, not as part of the household environment itself. I liked Enid Blyton and the Adventure series. The Castle of Adventure, The Island of …, etc. And all the Chronicles of Narnia, and more. Getaways.

    1. theonlycin says:

      I worry that my daughter doesn’t read as much as I did, but I am grateful that she reads at all; many youngsters don’t go near books.

  2. adeeyoyo says:

    I have been an avid reader most of my life, but am not as wide read as you. There were periods in my life that I hardly read at all and periods when I devoured all the detective and spy stories that I could lay my hands on for months and years on end. These books were certainly not educational, but more escapist for me.

    1. theonlycin says:

      I think we all escape that way at times.

  3. Madmom says:

    A great array of authors!
    Reading is as vital as oxygen. Food for the brain and the soul.

    1. theonlycin says:

      Too true Madmom.

  4. Ah, reading. When I was a child, and too shy to mix with other kids, I became a hero, a champion… even a villain sometimes, and the others couldn’t sully my adventures with their taunts.

    I’ve always loved the escape of reading, but the day I learned I could pick up a book to learn something new–on purpose!–was the day that reading really changed my life.

    A wonderful post, Cin! Thanks so much for sharing it.

  5. nrhatch says:

    A world without books would be a dreary wasteland indeed.

    Thanks, Cin!

  6. suzicate says:

    It IS as vital as oxygen!

  7. grandawn says:

    If I go for a period of time without reading (usually because I’m so busy with other things), I discover that I have to ‘catch up.’ Then I read and read and read. Reading was a staple in my life when I was a child – and I encouraged it shamelessly with my daughters. They used to keep a flashlight and a book under their pillows. The worst punishment I could give was to ‘ground’ them from reading. 🙂

  8. Quiet time in my house was awful until I learnt how to read. I’ve never looked back since.

  9. Satyakam says:

    Books are the best friends… they neither demand nor complain 😛
    They are always with us…
    I was not a very keen reader in my childhood but always loved to finish all my story books (prescribed in my course) even before classes started… But I had a very strange habit of accumulating my father’s old books. later I read most of them 🙂
    Reader’s Digest has always been a great companion…. I read it cover to cover like an addict 😉
    In last 8-10 years I have diversified my reading habit…from spirituality to philosophy to science fiction to non-fiction to self-help (motivational) to fiction…. I am ready to read anything and everything under the sky…
    The funny thing is that here in my blog I kill people with my poems and in last 12-13 years I have seldom read any poem of any eminent poet! hahahahah 😀

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