I grew up an only child (although many years later I found my brother and my sister found me) of two unsociable parents. I was very very curious about everything (still am!) and spent my day asking ‘Why Daddy, Why?’ questions so when I was almost five, my father taught me to read and gave me a children’s encyclopaedia and dictionary. And I was off! I disappeared daily into a world of books.
Reading as much as I did really helped me in school – I could read well and quickly by the time I started school, my spelling and vocabulary were both good, and I retained information much better. I had a very active imagination and used to write my own stories from an early age. Something I think later generations don’t have because they listen and watch rather than read.
I used to love Enid Blyton. She is much derided nowadays, her books are regarded as racist, sexist, elitist, as are many authors from that time (though Noddy was banned in South Africa because he shared a bed with Big Ears), and her vast output is questioned, but she gave me my love of reading. I read them all. The Adventure Series, the Mystery Series, St Clare’s, Malory Towers, the short stories, Secret Seven, Famous Five.
I have virtually no books remaining from those days (the house was sold after my parents died when I was a teenager, and all the contents auctioned. The few books I kept went to my cousins, and later my nieces and nephews) but through all my moves and travels, three have remained with me. My favourite children’s books of all time.
I read these until the covers were tattered or lost altogether.
Even though Enid Blyton did not create great literature like Melville, Tolstoy, Proust, Joyce or another of my favourites, Proulx, you can bet she instilled a love of reading in more people than they ever did.
Which is why I tell students that are put off reading English because they think they need to be reading Dickens and Shakespeare – read what you like. Read what will get you reading. If Fifty Shades of Grey is your thing – read it. The more you enjoy it the more you will read and the better you will get.
I came to Sweden on a work permit, to work as a journalist, and taught myself to read Swedish from articles about local beauty products. From then I moved on to tabloids and gossip magazines because sentences were short and simple and there were more photographs to illustrate the articles. When I finally received my residence permit in Sweden and was thus allowed to study, I studied Swedish at Stockholm University, and read all the Swedish classics. But I could never have started with them.
I have found a nice Enid Blyton site here and by reading about the people who run it, they all had a love of reading instilled in them by Ms Blyton.
PS I also loved Joyce Stranger’s books about animals. My favourite was Casey, after whom my black cat was named.
- Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
- I am David by Anne Holm
- What Katy Did by Sarah Chauncey Woolsey (probably because they were Carrs too!)
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
- My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
- Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodson Burnett
- The Diary of Anne Frank
- A career series for girls, of which my favourite was this one, and led to my choice of career.
Comics, photo comics and Mills and Boon were banned in our house but of course I smuggled them in and hid them under my mattress. Our passageway had a squeaky floorboard, so I knew when to hide them again!
The first adult book I ever read was A Town Called Alice by Nevil Shute, because it was the only book my mother had ever read, and she loved it. I then worked my way through my dad’s bookshelf which was full of Arthur Hailey, Alistair MacLean, Ian Fleming, and of course Nevil Shute.