The written word dominates our life, in everything we do. But it goes further than being able to fill in a form, follow road signs or post messages on facebook. It feeds our imaginations, it inspires us, and ultimately it allows us to leave our own thoughts for future generations, who ever may be interested in them.
A collection of words is a sentence, sentences form paragraphs, paragraphs build into chapters and chapters create stories. This is mine.
I believe it to be true that I could read quite well before I started school. In those days before phonetic learning, children learned to read using the Ladybird Key Words books. Apparently they are no longer used as the teaching method is seen as old fashioned. And yet I learned quite well, and I see a lot of illiterate people coming out of schools these days who have not benefited from new fangled approaches. A lot of the success a child has in reading is dependent on how enthusiastic the parents are in teaching them at home. My mother spent a lot of time reading with me, as we did with our children, and now I see my daughter and her husband investing the same amount of effort into our grandchildren who are already remarkable readers, the eldest being only seven.
So I arrive in my first class and I am promptly handed Ladybird Book 1A – which I had already read at home, the books being sold at a little store in the village. The teachers thought I had memorised the illustrations on each page, so kept handing me different and more advanced books in the series.
Once the teachers had realised I was already independently reading, they let me loose in the main book section of the school library (actually it was just a long shelf in the corridor – I would sit crossed legged outside picking and reading books while the rest of the class sat inside doing their reading lessons).
One of my early favourite books was a particularly good story about a flying postman, who delivered his mail from an autogyro and made pink ice cream using locally picked strawberries and milk from the local cow. I liked anything aviation and pink ice cream, so this book was always destined to be a hit, and I read it many times over.
Ironically, it is one of the few books that was never republished in later years – a decent copy nowadays can fetch £150 or more at auction.
AsI grew older, my father, also an avid reader (as was mum) started taking me with him when he joined the town’s main library. I wasn’t allowed to have any books at the time, as Dad was only allowed four at a time and he would often take home four novels and read them in the following week. I remember the old library (now transformed into the local museum), fusty smelling, large walnut and oak book shelves stacked from floor to ceiling with books on every subject. It was both awesome and unpleasant at the same time. Eventually though he let me have the odd book, and I also started using the mobile library service – they were also quite surprised that I had already read most of their children selections, and I started reading large plate illustrated reference books instead. I soaked up information regardless of the topic.
Eventually we joined our local village library and I was old enough to be given my own library cards – two to start with, and later I was allowed four books. Unlike the mobile service, they were not impressed with my reading skill and often prevented me browsing the adult reference section.
Even in the children’s section I started developing favourite authors and subject matters – Having been enthralled by “The Cat In The Hat” by Dr Seuss I soon read the whole of his works, learning poetry, humour and some subliminal messages of morality on the way.
Later on I worked my way through the Mary Norton classics “The Borrowers”, featuring the brave Arrietty and her mum and dad, and the “Boy” who would come to feature in her adventures.
Two books that I would regularly read are John Masefield’s classics “The Midnight Folk” and it’s sequel “The Box of Delights”, following one of my many themes of magic and the supernatural. I’ve since passed these on to my daughter and most recently my granddaughter.
Eventually the librarians at our local library began to appreciate my addiction and maturity where books and reading were concerned, and allowed me into the adult section well before my time.
Another great children’s classic I loved was “A Wrinkle In Time”, by Madeleine L’Engle. Written in 1962, it tells the tale of a daughter trying to find her father who has managed to slip into another dimension. She and her brother are helped by three strange beings known as the “Mrs’s.” It is incredible to think that this book was rejected by publishers around 39 times before someone took it on. Disney have finally put in the the big screen this year, but I have to say while it is an impressive film with an equally impressive cast, it does not do the original story justice.
My Dad continued to take 3-4 books a week, these generally being science fiction. He would read one and then pass it to me. Classic Sci-Fi writers like Issac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon to name but a few.
I loved the grown up novels, especially the Sci-Fi anthologies, and soon had an extensive reading list from these bookshelves. Before long, I was as avid a fan of Sci-Fi as my dad, and I would start to take my own books and recommend them to him. Times were good.
All good novels have some basic underlying message for the reader, and many of the Sci Fi classics follow suit. For example, one of the most fascinating concepts for me was Asimov’s three laws of robotics, which went on to be the foundation of many a novel by other authors. I won’t bore you with them, I’ll let you read them for yourself. I can say that the Will Smith movie I Robot is not a patch on the original book.
Once I had worked my way through the Sci-Fi shelves, I found myself reading up on some of the old classics. The language was occasionally more difficult to take on board, and the stories sometimes more simplistic (i.e. less gadgetry) yet still well thought out and complex. Many films have been made of these classic books but I still feel that none of the films really capture the words of the author, and the images you create in your own mind based on the writer’s descriptions are unique to you.
Eventually girls and work took over from spending all of my spare time reading, although I do still make a point of taking three or four good novels away on holiday with me. And of course, movies where becoming more spectacular at telling these basic stories, so simple reading took a back seat for a while.
One the most influential books I ever read was “Jaws” by Peter Benchley. While not a horror fan, the suspense that Benchley builds in his novel was supreme. I’m sure my Dad would not have let me buy the book while we were on holiday in Blackpool (at the tender age of 14) had he known quite how horrific it was!
Taking A level English Literature in my last year of school exposed me to another genre which I found enjoyable in an unexpected way. Firstly Shakespeare, in the form of Othello and Hamlet, and then also Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, with old english so strange to decipher, the book came in two parts – the left page had the original text, while the right page had a modern english translation.
Now days my tastes have broadened somewhat and while still reading some science fiction, I find myself drawn towards thrillers with a military / espionage theme (although I’m not a fan of the pure spy novels). And if it involves some technological element like naval ships, aircraft or submarines, all the better.
Some of my favourite authors include Matthew Reilly (who has also managed to combine a good military thriller with a scifi aspect), Craig Thomas, creator of Firefox – later a poorly made adaptation starring Clint Eastwood – Sea Leopard would have been a better bet; Patrick Robinson, who has a brilliant set of novels revolving around terrorism and the US Navy seals; and finally Lee Child, creator of the extensive Jack Reacher novels. And believe me, if you have read any of the novels, the Jack Reacher films with Tom Cruise playing the lead role are just laughable. Another good read if you like this theme is Robert Ludlow, and his Covert One series. Highly recommended.
Imagine an author that manages to combine everything that interests you? Technology, thriller, horror, aviation, medicine – only one man has ever fit the bill and that is the famous Michael Crichton.
I first came across him early on with his brilliant thriller “The Andromedia Strain” which I read with my Dad, also made into a successful film of the same name – but you might be surprised that many of the best blockbusters were based on his books – take a look.
“Airframe” is a particularly good thriller.
Everyone finds a niche that suits them – whether its thriller, autobiographies or Mills and Boon romances, what is important is that you are reading. Never stop.