Keith Marshall shares with us his memories of reading as a child:

Childhood Reading


I’m not a fluent reader.  Yes, I can read anything, am highly educated, have a good grasp of (basic) grammar and a huge vocabulary.  But although I’m not dyslexic my spelling is, even now at 62, rather shoddy and I read slowly – it takes me about three times as long to read a page as it does most people.  I don’t know why, it isn’t that I especially struggled to learn to read.


But the upshot of this is that I got turned off reading voraciously for pleasure and grammar school killed any enjoyment I might have had of the classics.  Half an hour of homework (read the next chapter of Great Expectations) became a two hour marathon.  So I was always behind.  School absolutely killed the classics for me.


I must have read a certain amount at junior school otherwise I would not have got through the 11+ with ease.  But my memory of what I read is hazy at best.


I remember we had a series of Janet and John books when I was learning to read and I remember reading Orlando the Marmalade Cat with my mother.  And I must have read at least parts of Alice in Wonderland while still quite young.


I do remember, probably at about the age of 7 or 8, reading TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.  This started because it was something my father read to me at bedtime and before long I knew “Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat” off by heart.


Along the way someone obviously gave me a copy of A Puffin Book of Verse and Four Feet and Two.  I know I read a lot of the former, dipping into it repeatedly over many years, but could never really get on with the latter.


Once I got to about 10 or 11 I started reading WE Johns’s Biggles books and over a period of about 5 years I devoured every one that our local library could throw at me – much to my parents’ disgust that I wasn’t reading anything “better”. Biggles became my alter ego.


Once past the age of about 14 I don’t recall reading anything much that I didn’t have to – I probably did, but it was unlikely to have been fiction and it hasn’t stuck in my memory.  Although I did buy John Betjeman’s High and Low when it was published, and this remained my “go to” book if ever I had a sleepless night, even into my student days.  I must have read a chunk of Sherlock Holmes at about this time too.


And, oh dear, I think the whole school, read Peyton Place when it came out in paperback in the mid-1960s.  I also ploughed my way through my father’s copy of Ulysses at about 16 (why?) and about the same time decided that Lady Chatterley’s Lover was just boring and gave up on it halfway through.


I didn’t really return to reading fiction, or indeed anything much outside my academic (scientific) sphere, until I was a post-graduate student when I discovered all sorts of oddities (Langland, Gower) as well as people like Evelyn Waugh, Laurie Lee and Don Camillo.


Although I’m now the Secretary of a literary society, I’m still not a great reader of fiction and to this day I cannot abide the classics.


And the moral is?  Even if a child is not a fluent reader, don’t give up, don’t worry about it and don’t despair.  Keep ensuring they have access to a wide range of interesting things to read (we had a lot of books at home and were always in and out of our local library), let them read whatever they choose, and there’s a good chance they’ll pick up on what they really like as they get older.