One of my friends just typed a tale on a message board – smoking with rage – of an overheard conversation in an Australian shop. It went something like this:
Child, picking up children’s book, priced at $2 from bargain table: “Mum, can I have this?”
Mother: “No, dear. Wouldn’t you rather have lollies?”
Now there’s a child being told pretty early on what to value and what not to buy. Will she learn the lesson, do you think, or persist – and become a reader? We’ll never know.
So my question is: why do YOU read? Because your parents valued reading? Bought you books? Or was it something you had to discover on your own?
In the farmhouse I grew up in, books were valued by my mother. My father rarely read anything but the newspaper, and he usually fell asleep reading that in the evenings. My mother, on the other hand, love reading, loved books. For many years – cut off from libraries and bookshops on a remote country farm – she belonged to a book club and ordered mail-order books. Her books shelves were stuffed with things like the complete plays of Bernard Shaw, and the literary novels of Australia of the twenties and thirties.
As a child then, I had a role model. I was read to at bedtime – all those Australian classics. Better still, I had an older brother (8 years older) and a sister (7 years older), so I benefited from whatever they had. When my sister started university at 17, I was only 10 – and I read pretty much everything she brought home from the university library. Kids books? Hardly. I was reading all the classics – mostly European authors. I don’t recall reading much American literature (except Little Women and Poe) until I hit university myself. And oh, yes, I think there was a copy of Anne of Green Gables, but my sister and I were most unimpressed by that one.
There were no libraries where we lived. In school, there was was one cupboard of books per classroom, and we were allowed to take one book per week (which I inevitably read in an hour or two on the first day). If the teachers’ aim was to make books seem desirable, rare objects, then they succeeded.
Oddly enough, I rarely read science fiction or fantasy. My mother was not fond of that sort of thing (“too much like nightmares” was how she described fantasy!), although odd books did come my way: James Hilton’s Shangri-la; some Jules Verne and Rider Haggard.
I found out just two days after my mother’s death – when I was in Australia for her funeral – that my first book had been accepted for publication. To this day, I grieve that she never knew…she would have been proud.