Saturday, 4 July 2009

My Reading Mojo

This was written as a response to an article on Vulpes Libris charting the evolution of someone's reading habits over the years. I found it fascinating and decided to do the same...

Up until about age 14 I read all the time. It started with reading with my dad at bedtime to practice my reading but soon I had proved that I could read and got to sit back while he read to me. We read all sorts of environmentally friendly children's adventure books: the likes of Michael Morpurgo, the Greenwatch series, books about whaling by someone with the surname Smith. I remember regularly reading late into the night, particularly Matilda by Roald Dahl which I must have read 4 or 5 times. I read to escape, not because my childhood was hard but because the other worlds in those books were so fantastically exciting. The books helped me understand the world, learn what it was I most valued, and ultimately have a mighty great time doing it.

My big Eureka! moment also came with Lord of the Rings when I was 10 or 11. I had started it with my dad but soon the one chapter a night got too slow for me so I began taking it to school and reading on wet lunch breaks and the like. I flew though the last 400 pages or so and loved every single minute of it.

This sort of thing continued for the first year or two of secondary school before being overtaken by computer games (football management games proved the death of reading for me) and staring inanely at sport on the TV. I wasn't a particularly sociable teenager so it wasn't girls or alcohol which was responsible for this, probably just the overriding sense that reading wasn't the cool thing to be doing. Still, I had a 25 minute train journey to school every morning which had to be filled with something and I occasionally read during this (Christian Jacques Ramses series and a few others) but reading was more to fill time than anything else.

During GCSE's and A-Levels revision I read my set texts again and again. I must have read Lord of the Flies and Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence 4 or 5 times so that come the exams I loved them in an intellectual sense even if I didn't in an emotional sense. And all this enforced reading took its toll. When it came to university I didn't want to be told to read any more classics so I applied to study history.

A month before I started university I was sitting around home quite bored and decided to give Harry Potter a go. 6 days later I had read the first 4 books in a haze of adventurous excitement and for the next year or two everything I read was overshadowed by love of those books. Not that I remember successfully reading much else, other than a complete re-reading of Lord of the Rings, that is. I had a tough time personally and remember going to the campus bookshop one morning when I hadn't been able to sleep all night and buying the boxset which I then went back to my room and read one after the other again in about 8 days. I would read fansites and get breathlessly excited just discussing what might happen next, watched the movies slightly obsessively, and even used to buy the candy. (Yes, I was 19 or 20 at the time!)

That summer I had the reading, and life experience (I met the wonderful woman who later became my wife), which changed me. Having found another amazing fantasy world through Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials I read Milan Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being and found intellectual, post-modernist, adult fiction which made my mind swim with ideas.

I would talk with Megan about the books we liked for hours. She had been a complete bibliophile as a child and read all the classics which I hadn't so she was like a beacon of the person I wanted to become. She opened my mind to all sorts of new reading possibilities and I hungrily devoured them. But as university got closer to the end, and then through my masters, I found that I was reading too many history texts to think about fiction. The longer this went on, the more I looked forward to finishing with education so that I could read for pleasure once more. For about 6 months I spent my time planning what I would read when I had free choice once more.

And then, the day I handed in my masters dissertation I sat in the union bar and looked out the window to see that Waterstone's was seeking temporary booksellers. I applied, was interviewed, was not chosen. Not at first anyway. But after the first, second, and possibly third candidates turned it down they offered it to me and I jumped at the opportunity.

The 4 years I spent at Waterstone's were a veritable roller-coaster of literary discovery. Being surrounded everyday by so many wonderful books is an experience I shall never forget. But it ended in February of this year when I got a new office job and since then my reading mojo has definitely taken a downturn. This saddens me greatly, but I don't know to get it back.

Whether at the very heart of my life or simmering quietly on the back burner, reading has always been at the heart of my life and it is something I am incredibly grateful for.


Lisa said...

Really enjoyed this piece, Sam. Interesting parallels between our reading lives. I also adored the Harry Potter series (forgot to mention that in my post). I've never read Philip Pullman, but you've inspired me to try, so many thanks! :-)

Sam Ruddock said...

Hi Lisa and thank for reading. Philip Pullman is well worth reading too. It's strange, I love children's fantasy adventure type books, but have never read any of the sci-fi fantasy for adults. Have you?

Lisa said...

I've read loads of Raymond Feist, but generally it's been children's fantasy adventure books. I'd never really thought about that before!