I never seem to read the ‘must read’ book whenever the ‘must read’ book is at the height of its popularity. At school I never studied 1984, or Lord of the Flies or Animal Farm. I hadn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird until five years ago. As far as the reads that seem to hold the collective literary unconscious together, I am always way behind the curve.
Ditto with children’s books. I spent my childhood reading voraciously, but it was often things that would not be considered ‘worthy’. I read trash. I read Enid Blyton. I read books adapted from t.v. shows. I read thousands of Beano and Dandy annuals. I read teen romances, and pretty much everything the establishment frowns upon.
But I absolutely loved reading. I never had my head out of a book. I always had at least two or three books on the go at any one time. I always wanted to read faster to get onto the next book and my parents never censored what I read. By the time I was eleven I was choosing Kafka alongside Alistair McClean and Agatha Christie, Mills and Boon and still reading The Famous Five.
My main reading sources were the local library which we visited every week without fail. I was allowed four books a week then. It was never enough. I envy children these days. Modern library lending means that children are allowed up to fifteen books at a time in some libraries. Fifteen! Be still my beating heart.
I also spent a lot of time at jumble sales, picking through the book stalls and spending my pocket money with reckless abandon. I always picked more books than I could afford, but luckily my parents were pretty generous when it came to buying books. They were considered a necessity rather than a luxury.
It taught me the merits of reading everything, and not making value judgements on things I hadn’t read, or judging people by what they read. I am happy to say that something is trash, but only if I’ve read it first, and even if I think it’s trash, it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate that other people might love it. Any reading is better than no reading. Anything that makes you itch to pick up a book, just finish that chapter, not want to turn the light out, fall asleep with your book still in your hands is fine by me.
Read what you want. Read where you want. Read how often you want. Read widely. Find what you love. Just keep reading.