I can still quote virtually word for word some of my children’s favourite books: Where the Wild Things Are; The Elephant and the Bad Baby; Where;s Spot?; The Very Hungry Caterpillar; Peace at Last; Each Peach Pear Plum. There are more that still give me a frisson of anticipation – both dread (“oh no! not again”, to quote the bowl of petunias) and pleasure (“oh great” we get to do the actions/sound effects”).
Some of my favourite times have included reading to the children, and sharing the pleasures of great books. Obviously as they got older, the books changed; shared reading evolved from bedtime stories (ah, the Faraway Tree!) to camping stories (The Magic Roundabout), and nowadays to conversations about books and making recommendations to each other.
As a child my own reading was a slightly more solitary pursuit. My grandmother read to me endlessly when I was very small. Once I did learn to read I tended to read to myself, escaping into into adventures with Enid Blyton’s child detectives, and later developing a taste for science fiction which grew out of my abiding love of fairy tales. I always preferred to escape to exotic places rather than read about the mundane.
My favourite books – beyond pretty much anything by Enid Blyton (especially Shadow the Sheepdog) – were C S Lewis’s Narnia series, stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Hugh Walters space series, My Friend Flicka and James Blish’ Star Trek stories. I also developed a passion for comic books – DC and Marvel – and still remember being absolutely transfixed by Spiderman, still my favourite superhero.
My dad used to buy me a book every few weeks instead of comics each week, and was never afraid to try titles which were rather unconventional, and in some cases quite challenging for a 10 year old – Jules Verne and H G Wells turned up about then. He had no idea what they were like – he just knew I liked spaceships and adventure stories.
I love to read., and I have reasonably large collection of books. Occasionally I am persuaded to to cull them, but it always feels like a bereavement. Alice said “What is the use of a book without pictures?”; I say “What is the use of a life without books?”. It might function well, but without the added dimension of reading, to me it is only half a life.
If we do not give ourselves the opportunity to explore alternative ideas, learn new things, marvel at the wonderful diversity and complexity of the world and people in it, the enormity and awe-inspiring brilliance of the universe, past, present and future – if we do not open our minds to extrme possibilities – through fiction, poetry, biography, travel writing, recipe books, then I believe we are not fully and completely the most human we can be.