(For this activity we were asked to write 300 words - I've got over double that! - about our early reading history.)
There are too many, far too many many. I bet you all feel the same. I can’t remember a time when books weren’t an integral part of life. From the first I can remember (Fungus the Bogeyman) to the last I finished (A Room With A View), reading is simply the most natural, the most obvious thing in the world. It is something I have never had to try at; it is one foot in front of the other, breathe in and breathe out. Every room of my home has always been full of books (even the bathrooms, where their leaves intermingle with the pages of magazines, set aside until the next brief stop), particularly novels, which Dad and I used to refer to by pet name – ‘chapter books’. I’m not sure when I started reading for myself but my parents tell me it was very early and I have rarely been without the security of a book since. I can accomplish most tasks one-handed, defence against the necessity of putting down a book at an exciting moment. I sleep when the next chapter is at an end, not before.
My personality tends towards the obsessive and this has always shone through in my reading matter. As a child I would become very involved with long series of books or a particular author. I read as much Roald Dahl as I could get my little hands on (I admit, I tried more than once to move objects with my mind, a la Matilda). Complete insanity, pinned on the page and bursting with colour and music and gorgeous new words and weird, wonderful, fantastic and complex characters. One of my most treasured possessions is a first edition of Esio Trot, despite the stains and the dog-eared pages. The Famous Five also loom terrible large in my past. Even now I’m not sure I could put into words exactly why Blyton held me in such thrall, particularly when I couldn’t stand The (so-similar-she-must-be-taking-the-mickey) Secret Seven but perhaps it was simply that their summers, which were so full of adventure, helped to elevate my own annoyingly normal and lovely childhood. I always longed for life to provide me with the kind of breathless fun and life-changing experiences that were thrust upon fictional characters all the time.
When adolescence hit (to my eternal shame) my allegiance switched to... deep breath... Sweet Valley High. This was, in my defence, liberally mixed with 101 Dalmations, The Hobbit, The Secret Garden, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Peter Pan, The Railway Children, Charlotte’s Web, The Borrowers, The Worst Witch, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (and the rest – obsessive again),The Doll’s House, What Katy Did (and what she did at school, and what she did next), Alice in Wonderland... Nevertheless, it was those blonde twins who were forbidden to me, whenever I was in need of a punishment! Alright, it was shallow and silly but what eleven year old girl doesn’t want to be blonde, beautiful, popular and smart. Nor did it hurt that I could easily finish one in an hour! Plus, Liz (the sensible twin) was a writer.
So was Jo March. Little Women is probably the book that most lives with me from my childhood. This is partly because it is achingly romantic without being sappy and sentimental (though some will disagree, I suppose), partly because I wanted to fall for someone like Jo’s (and then Amy’s) Laurie, partly because it is about a close group of sisters (three of us Boyds to the four Marches and not dissimilar personalities – I’m 50/50 Meg and Jo, in case you’re interested). Mostly, though, it is because Jo is still my model for how a writer is. Consumed by words, thinking in paragraphs, alive to the world and how it works, tough and determined and ambitious. So many of the characters I hold close to my heart are writers, but Jo is the one I still hope to resemble.