I’ve always loved the way a good book can take you out of yourself – make you see and think things you’d never have thought of; make you reassess the world and your place within it. Aside from the joy of immersing myself in a story, I also love the instant bond of friendship you find when you meet someone who’s read the same books. My brother and I bonded over books as we grew up, but our journeys of learning to read and loving to read were very different.
I don’t really remember learning to read, but I do remember that by the end of grade one, I was always taking books from the highest difficulty box in the classroom, and I devoured them as fast as I could, moving quickly on to ‘chapter books’ and novels from the school library. When I was in my final semester at high school I had to ‘give up’ books cold turkey to make sure I got all my homework done. Now, my husband actually calls me a book addict – he bemoans the lack of attention he gets when my head is stuck in a new book. But we both love books, and we have spent many hours discussing the worlds and characters from books we’ve read.
By contrast my little brother really struggled to pick up reading skills. He certainly didn’t read just for fun.
I’m 6 years older than my brother, and when he was in grade one and labouring through extra ‘catch-up’ reading classes, I was discovering the delights of Tolkien in my spare time. I wanted to share my love of books with him, so I started reading The Hobbit to him. Sitting on his bed reading to my brother and sister, complete with voices ( sometimes until my throat hurt from talking so much), is one of my favourite memories.
Next we started on the Rowan of Rin and Deltora Quest books by Emily Rodda. Now that I was at high school I had less and less spare time for reading to him. But we were already halfway through the Deltora Quest series – he had to know what happened next! He was still struggling with his reading skills, so he borrowed the next book from the library as an audio book. But once that one was finished – the next book wasn’t available in audiobook! So he borrowed the book… and just read it himself!
I was talking to my brother recently about when we used to read together and he pointed out he’d never been interested in reading until I read him an actual novel. The books he had available when learning to read were either not long or exciting enough to encourage him to find out what happened next, or they were too hard for him and he’d give up before he got into the story. He had to learn to love books before he wanted to learn to read them.
Between the audio books, my sister and myself reading aloud, and then more and more reading on his own, my brother finished all three series of the Deltora Quest. In a couple of years he went from hating reading, to devouring books as fast as we could give them to him. By the end of primary school he was reading at the same (if not higher) level as I had been at his age.
By the time he was at high school, we were exchanging books, discussing and describing them and sharing the joys of reading. I rarely (if ever) thought that he might be ‘too young’ for a book I’d just read, and I guess that our Mum felt the same way, as she never tried to stop us reading anything either (though she did get very cross with me for reading so late at night!). Some of my favourite books were my Mum’s old favourites, or my Dad’s, and Mum and I still swap books when we have time to read.
The mutual love of books is still a strong bond in many of my relationships – my husband and I fight over who gets to read a new book first; my friends, my siblings and I swap books and discuss the writers we love (yeah I admit – often George R.R. Martin), the characters we hate (King Joffrey!), and what we think we might have done in the same situations.
Now as my nieces grow up I’m thrilled to see them loving books as well. Last Christmas I couldn’t decide between the books I wanted to get them, so I got them all six that I’d found – both old favourites of mine and new books recommended by the bookshop staff. I look forward to seeing them again this Christmas to ask about what they’ve been reading this year.
And secretly, I’m building up a collection of books that I want to pass on to my own children one day. Books I loved; books that changed the way I thought about the world and about people. And I look forward to reading the books they find, because you should never stop changing the way you think about the world.
What do you remember about learning to read? Did you love books? Do you read much now? Do you have favourite books that you want to pass on to your children?