Monday, May 3, 2010

I Am a Reader

This piece was originally submitted for my uni paper Intro to Academic Writing.

One of my earliest memories is of my first day of primary school. My teacher, a stern older lady with crinkly salt-and-pepper hair whose name I’ve now forgotten, had somehow learned that I was quite an advanced reader for my four and a half years of age. She asked me to read to the class from a huge picture book that was nearly as tall as I was. I was thrilled and thought this was a great honour, and carefully balanced the book on my lap as I sat next to her. I opened the book, took a deep breath, and blinked a couple of times to prepare myself…and my eyelashes got stuck together, I couldn’t open my eyes! And that is my first memory of reading.

Luckily, the experience didn’t put me off. From that early memory of reading to my classmates, to reading bedtime stories to my niece who has just started school herself, reading has always been an integral part of my life. I read what I can, when I can – everything I can get my hands on, in every spare moment I have. On family road trips during my childhood, Mum wouldn’t let me read in the car because if she read in the car, she got a headache. So I would read the map book and be the navigator. I would read road signs. I would sneakily read snatches of my book in the back seat while Mum napped. These days, I read during my dinner break at work and before I go to bed. I read when I should be doing something else (like sleeping, or studying). I read to learn about where the world has been and where it’s going, and to transport myself to other worlds. 

My reading taste has matured, rather than changed, just like the rest of me. I still enjoy learning new things, but now I read books for adults, not books for children. I still enjoy good horror and fantasy novels. I used to read Roald Dahl and Margaret Mahy; now I read Stephen King and David Eddings. My favourite books teach me new ways of thinking, or let me leave my cares behind for an hour, or an afternoon. The best books operate on so many levels that you experience them differently each time you read them. These are the books that I slip into again and again, like a favourite pair of faded jeans.

I don’t understand people, like my sister, who don’t read for pleasure. The “nature vs. nurture” debate has always fascinated me. My sister and I had very similar upbringings but could hardly be more different. Nature defines not only our differences in appearance, but also our different personalities and our appreciation of reading. My sister is a scientific scholar who reads scholarly journals and books that I couldn’t begin to understand, and yet doesn’t enjoy curling up with a good novel. Our nurture during our childhood was the same: we were both read to by our parents and grandparents, were both taken to the library once a week, and yet grew up with very different attitudes to reading thanks to our different natures.

Most of my childhood and high school friends were also readers, as are my closest friends today. My new husband is a reader too. Our reading tastes overlap slightly but also have many differences. We both read for pleasure, but find pleasure in different things. Our gifts to each other are nearly always books, and we both enjoy discovering new authors and sharing them with each other and our friends. Our mutual enjoyment of reading is one of the foundations of our relationship.

I don’t understand why saying “I’m a writer” is a valid way of describing yourself, but saying “I’m a reader” is not. Without readers, there would be no writers. Why is creating something given more respect than enjoying the creations of others? Reading expands your vocabulary, your knowledge, and your horizons. Being a reader is the defining quality of who I am. I am a reader and proud of it.

2 comments:

  1. Lovely post and I can really identify with it on so many different levels. At a writing class at uni, my professor told us that if we were not readers, we would never make good writers and I definitely agree with it. I am a reader and very proud of it too :)

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  2. Thanks :) I'm certain that my large vocabulary, good spelling and grammar, and wide general knowledge, are all thanks to my love of reading. I agree with your professor's comment. I think you have to read widely to write well. Some authors don't read in their own genre, and some ONLY read in their own genre - I think you should read widely, on whatever is available, to maximise your writing skills :) That's the approach/excuse I have anyway!

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