Good morning, class.
Stephen King is thusly quoted: “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the tools or the time to write.”
What books illustrate my reading, and therefore writing, journey? In the midst of writing my first novel I realise I had a hankering for writing years before I ever put pen to paper (I miss the obvious sometimes) and always had a book stashed somewhere to read (the day someone installs a shelf in the bathroom for reading material will be a day long remembered).
But what books first captured my imagination and fueled the desire to write; inspired me with their setting, characters, language, idiom and style?
Are we sitting quietly?
Good. Then let’s begin.
Chapter 1 – Rhythm, Rhyme and Repetition
If there were two books characteristic of my pre-school days, it’s The ABC Bunny and Wacky Wednesday.
The beautiful rhythm of ABC Bunny is so ingrained in my consciousness I can still recite most of it. If you ask my parents ever so nicely, they will quote it verbatim. There were two copies in my local library. I’d borrow one, and when returning it, would borrow the other copy.
My Pa read Wacky Wednesday on a flight from Sydney to Melbourne. Repeatedly. It’s only an hour and a half flight, but it was read to me or have me gallumphing up and down the aisles. My grandfather chose wisely.
It all began with a shoe on the wall
A shoe on the wall shouldn’t be there at all
I looked up and said, “Oh, man!”
And that’s how Wacky Wednesday began.
Chapter 2 – Lashings of Ginger Beer
From infants readers involving Moonbeam the Monkey, it was in later primary school where I devoured books. Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five, and their poor cousins The Secret Seven (who, let’s be honest here, in a purely numbers game, five were able to do what seven could, four if you discount Timmy the Dog).
There was something spectacular about gallivanting across English moors with potted meat and lashings of ginger beer. From an Antipodeans’ perspective, it sounded rather fun. We had our own version of fun out here, too, but when it was ‘over there’ it seemed more adventurous.
Added to the mix were the adventures of Asterix, Obelix and Tintin. They weren’t just comic strip stories. They were exciting adventures in a similar way to The Famous Five. It took me years later to actually get the jokes in Asterix, especially the names: Cacophonix the Bard, Getafix the Druid. And for some reason we had a copy in my primary school library in Latin.
I was even a library monitor in Year 6 (the last year of primary school before high school). A job that entailed me helping the infant students return their books each Friday before school. Every book had a small orange card we took out of the class folder and put back into the envelope inside the front cover.
Chapter 3 – The War Diaries
Later in primary school I developed a fascination with war stories. Three that stand out are The Silver Sword, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and The Machine Gunners. At some point I remember reading war comics, too, buying them from the newsagency. It wasn’t about the glory of war, but the impact of such significant events on people.
And keeping with the adventure theme, I think it was in early high school I encountered The Hardy Boys.
Chapter 4 – Exploring Middle Earth
I distinctly remember reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in my last year of primary school. It took me six weeks to skim through Tolkein’s trilogy (well, 6 books if we’re being finicky). Most of it went over my head at the time, but later readings and re-readings uncovered the depth and breadth of Tolkein’s Middle Earth.
I haven’t delved too far into fantasy apart from David Eddings’ Belgariad series and an apprentice magician’s hat full of fantasy books.
Chapter 5 – The Classics and Some Classic Comics
High school either kills your love of literature or pours petrol on the tiny flame burning. I encountered Chaucer, Shakespeare, Keats, Donne, Lord of the Flies, Heart of Darkness, To Kill a Mockingbird and others whose authors and titles I have forgotten.
These names either strike fear or wonderment in the heart of a reader. For me it was a little of both, mixed with bewilderment, especially when it came to the metaphysical poetry of Keats and Donne. Lord of the Flies was a fascinating study and I still love teaching it to students today.
Heart of Darkness is a text that has resonated with me since I studied it. I loathed Huckleberry Finn and Great Expectations. Maybe some other time.
Amongst the pantheon of classic literature, I indulged in comics, specifically The Phantom. Collected them for years and have just started collecting again.
Chapter 6 – University Days
Like any Arts undergraduate, I spent my time bathing in more of the classics of Shakespeare, and the Greek epics of The Iliad and The Odyssey, the comedies of Aristophanes and Plautus, the tragedies of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles. I had a friend at uni, now a Classics lecturer, who received a copy of Winnie The Pooh in Latin for a birthday.
As well I engaged with the classical absurdism of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. I see the symmetry in that.
Chapter 7 – The Later Years
As a high school English teacher, I try and keep abreast of what my students are reading so I’ve read The Hunger Games, Twilight (just the first book – couldn’t go any further), Matthew Reilly and John Marsden.
I also get to teach some of the classics. Reading for pleasure has involved Fight Club, The Life of Pi, the Bronte sisters, Asimov (loving sci-fi. Want more).
But for me, it’s been all about Tim Winton and Marcus Zusak, whose most recent book, The Book Thief, is superlatively amazing. These two Australian authors have been my inspiration of late.
I doubt I’m all that different to many readers who inhabit these digital shelves, but the wonderment of reading has never lost its appeal.
In the telemovie of Terry Pratchett’s The Hogfather, Death has one of the best lines,
“Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know, that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom.”
May we never be bored with reading.