How six pages changed my life
I have said many times before that one of the main reasons I write is because I read. Not exactly a novelty or a revelation that, is it really? But I just wanted to let you know anyway.
A lot of people will thank a particular writer in their teenage years, or an English Teacher for mentoring their first steps in the literary world. I won't. However I will thank one of my English Literature A-Level teachers for helping me realising how much I hate Thomas Hardy and his yawn of a novel, Return of the Native. The way she rammed it down our throats, dissected and dwelled for hours over every paragraph could have killed my interest in reading for good. She didn't just teach it, she was downright obsessed. I ended up dropping the A-level after that.
Instead I will thank a kind middle aged man in 1992 who, when I was living in Tenerife, I crossed briefly in reception of the condo I was in. He gave me a copy of Strange Highways - a collection of short stories by Dean Koontz, leaving it with me as he'd finished his holiday read. Why he gave it to me I will never know. I would have probably never bought it from a bookshelf but I thanked him and took it.
A few nights later when I was struggling to fall asleep after work, I read the shortest story in the collection first, only six pages long, entitled 'Kittens', about how a little girl learns about 'taking her kittens to heaven'. I was gobsmacked. I read it again straight away before laying in to the others. I wanted to read more. My reading career had begun. Dean Koontz had hotwired my imagination. I have never looked back and have read (and therefore wrote) so many things since.
More than this newly acquired love for the written word, I realised the value of it. How in one form or another it holds something for everyone. About how much choice we have in what there is out there on the book shelves to feast our eyes upon. We don't have to read something that was rammed down our throats. That middle-aged tourist saved my literary life.
Every time I read a good book I always wish I was the one who wrote it instead. It's the same when I read an interesting features article in a newspaper or magazine. I wanted to be the guest reader on Jackanory on kids TV in the eighties. I can lose track of time in a bookshop raking through the shelves to find my next novel to read. Going around all the bookshelves is like a literary merry-go-round for my imagination. Each time I walk in a Waterstones when I'm with someone I should warn them by adopting Captain Oates' famous words of "I may be some time..."
Yet this week it dawned on me that in 2010, even if just over a month in to it, I have read only one novel this year, The Booker Prize winner, White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, a great book believe me. I only realised this evening it took me a couple of weeks to read it too, when usually I can devour them in a matter of days. To be honest, I haven't really been in the mood to sit down and read a good novel. That doesn't often happen.
But then I looked on my desk at a couple of study textbooks I use for University. One was part of the course books assigned. The other was a book I bought because it was recommended to me for work reasons and I thought it would be useful for study. I had bought a book for study; not given it or assigned it or been sent it by the university, but bought it out of my own free will. I never thought I would go out and buy books to extra study reasons. And to think back to my dropped English A-Level and being force fed a Thomas Hardy book to study. I have been constantly reading, skimming and studying these books on my desk instead.
But there is a difference. This book I bought for study I wanted to read even if I wasn't studying. Just like any novel, or any article or short story. And like any book I buy, I read it, put it on the bookshelf and read it again in the future. And again. That's why I spend so much time in a bookshop making the right choice of novel I want.
Unlike that kind middle-aged man who gave me the Dean Koontz book, I just can't be that generous. I won't give away any of my books. They are mine. Sorry, if I sound possessive, but I suppose I do hug my bookcase. Above all my favourite book which - as soon as I finish writing here - I will pick up and read bits from. Something I always do when I haven't got any new book to read. I'll use the study books tomorrow instead, if I don't do too much birthday celebrating and hanging out with Crazy Horse.