Right back to a very young age I have always been obsessed with books. My Auntie Sally apparently tried to get me to repeat nursery rhymes after her as she read them to me; sadly I was a pretty stubborn toddler. My mum tells me that as soon as she had left the house, I proceeded to recite, or perhaps read, them all perfectly. I started reading from the age of three, yes I was precocious but also unbeknown at that time, autistic; and this is a common clue for diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome.
I remember at Christmas, there was always a book in my stocking (make that a pillow case) left by Father Christmas (or Santa as I call him). I remember waking each year at about 2am to find a stuffed pillow case and all I looked for was a book shape. Once I had opened this gift, I was happy to go back to sleep until a proper waking time, when I would read said book. My other favourite gifts were a notebook and pen but I will save that for another lesson.
Through the first ten years of my life, I worked my way through the libraries of Enid Blyton, Noel Streatfeild, Lewis Carroll, Anna Sewell, Frances Hodgson Burnett and many more. I loved all books, but my absolute favourites were Enid Blyton hardbacks including the Faraway Tree, the Naughtiest Schoolgirl and Mr Twiddle; moving on to the series books: Famous Five, Secret Seven, St Clares and Mallory Towers. Even now I have some of these books on my shelves and I read them from time to time. I was even a member of the Enid Blyton fan club.
I always wanted to go to boarding school and take a tuck box with edible goodies to eat at midnight feasts. There is something about books read as a child; the memories live with you always. I can almost smell the macaroons, the fresh bread devoured by the Famous Five on their adventures, and yearn for the ‘lashings of ginger beer and hard boiled eggs’. My nan used to make rock buns and I imagined they were those eaten by the Secret Seven during their meetings in the shed with homemade lemonade.
As I became a teenager I read pretty much anything put in front of me but one book which impacted me more than any other, was one studied for GCE O’Level (yes, I’m THAT old!). To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee was published in 1960 and is the most wonderful book. I loved everything about it; the innocent but so intelligent child’s language narrating the story, the serious message behind it about racism which sadly still lingers on today in many parts of the world, even in this country, and the suave lawyer Atticus Finch who tries to be fair and just. Most of all I love the interactions with the characters, especially the children and the lonely character of Boo. More recently I have been aware that there is a chance that this character was autistic; a co-incidence I wonder? I managed to quote from this book in every one of my doctoral papers including a few times in my final thesis and now in my latest book Sensing the City. There seems to be appropriate words for pretty much every situation, and I continue to read this book time and time again. I was so incensed when it was taken out of the British school curriculum I wrote Michael Gove (the Education Minister at the time) a strong letter and sent out a press release objecting.
There is something about books – the smell of the paper, the feel of the pages turning. My books often looked ‘lived in’ with tea and coffee stains, and just yesterday I managed to get a beetroot stain on ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ a classic I just discovered after it being mentioned a couple of times in a movie I was watching.
That is not to say I don’t love an E-Reader as well. I resisted for several years before someone I respected in higher education told me he had discovered one and loved it. I quickly became addicted as I could download most of the books I wanted in the seconds I actually wanted them. No waiting for a bookshop to open, or the postman to arrive. It also meant I could flit about from book to book depending on my reading mood, and was especially useful if I was travelling or away. No having to decide which books I wanted to take with me, or limiting my choices depending on the weight and size.
Regardless of how or what I read the books these days, I do have a few more unwritten (until now) rules than I did as a child who read just about anything.
- If the description doesn’t grab me, even if the reviews are good, I usually won’t bother to read it. If the author or the publisher hasn’t made an effort to entice me as a reader, why should I spend time ‘trying it’?
- I need to be caught up in it by the end of the first couple of chapters or I usually give up on it. There are so many books out there to read, I need to spend my time reading what will inspire me.
- I realise that having read no 2, I am now at risk that you may be considering putting my books in with your next charity donation, but give me a chance; they are well worth reading… really.
- If the book is a printed version, I now pass it on to someone else; either by way of charity bag donation, or I leave it on a coffee shop table, park bench or train seat with a sticky note telling the finder it is a gift for them but to pass it on when they have finished reading it.
I believe that being able to read is a gift. Books teach language, spelling and grammar, give inspiration and motivation, pass on knowledge and skills, and create a strong foundation to build a life upon. Reading is a skill or pastime which can last a lifetime. If someone can’t read for one reason or another, there are audio books which can be equally wonderful to listen to. There are stories, poetry, life experiences, languages to learn, facts to absorb, or words to inspire.
Books have made my life complete and I would never want to be without them in some way.
I am especially proud to be releasing this blog today, which is the publication of my second book Sensing the City: An Autistic Perspective. You can read about it via this link or in my last blog.
Until next time…