Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Reading is everything to me

I could read before I went to school and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read or when I wasn’t reading. Although I prefer to read a printed book I was a very early adopter of the Kindle because it meant that I could take as many books with me wherever I went and could add books almost wherever I was.

As a child I loved book series. Our school was a bit snobby about certain books but my parents took a very liberal view – they didn’t really care what I read whether it was a “good” book or not - apart from a few examples below, but then those books were banned in South Africa anyway so were contraband!  I happily worked my way through Enid Blyton – Famous Five, Secret Seven, The Faraway Treethankfully Noddy passed me by.  Somehow I missed Mallory Towers but progressed through Sue Barton (nurse) and Cherry Ames (nurse and mystery) although I think I gave up halfway through the latter. The Hardy Boys followed and by then I had read almost everything in the children’s section of our local library in Johannesburg and at the age of 12 received permission to borrow books from the adult section: being South Africa there were no inappropriate books in the library!

Other authors I read addictively were Agatha Christie, Somerset Maugham and of course, Conan Doyle.

My father subscribed to a number of magazines for his waiting room (he was a surgeon) and my sister and I each chose one which we could read first – thus Girl’s Crystal and School Friend entered our lives.  Through one of these I corresponded with a pen friend in Stoke-on-Trent who was bewildered by the fact that we had two cars and I was amazed that the family not only didn’t have a car but had never travelled more than thirty miles from their home.  In South Africa you would think nothing of driving that distance to a party.

My mother chose various American magazines – Redbook, Good Housekeeping and McCalls – Betsy McCall paper dolls were printed in most issues. You could cut out the printed dolls that we would stick on cardboard and clothing that had little tabs so that you could fold them around the doll. 

Of course he subscribed to the Reader’s Digest – what medical waiting room was without a few dog-eared copies - as well as the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. My parents read a lot as well and I was recently browsing this website Publishers Weekly list of bestselling novels in the 1950s and found that I had read most of them – although my mother hid Peyton Place and Lolita in her sweater drawer so my reading of those was limited to sitting on the floor of her dressing room when my parents were out and reading until I heard the car when I scooted back to bed. There were some rather torrid historical romances in that category too.

For many years my favourite book was Jane Eyre.  I read it first when I was about twelve and have reread it every few years since then discovering different things every time.  I certainly wasn’t conscious of the sexual tension that appears through the book when I first read it and it never struck me as odd or even sinister that the book ended with the macho Mr Rochester made weak and blind and under the control of the seemingly restrained Jane.......but I am being too simplistic.

I read non-fiction and in fiction, everything apart from fantasy, horror and most science fiction.  In very recent years I have tended to read mostly crime fiction, especially what are now called “police procedurals”.  Again I delight in finding a new author who has written a series. I remember when P D James’ first book was serialised on TV I was just about to go into hospital and Number One Husband went out and bought me all the books she had written – apart from the surgery – what bliss!!

I finally cracked War and Peace.  I downloaded the audio book and about halfway through I was engaged enough to stop the audio book and read the book although I am still hazy on who is who.  

Apart from reading for work I don’t read much non-fiction any more with a few exceptions and I will write about one of them next time – Dorothy Parker is alleged to have said of a performance by Katharine Hepburn, “let’s all go to see Miss Hepburn and hear her run the gamut of emotions from A to B!”

This book put me through all the emotions from A to Z and back again. 

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