On Reading… (Genesis)
When I was a child, I didn’t like reading. I remember my siblings bribing me with stickers for finishing each new book. My sticker album was my pride and I revelled in every addition. There were shiny Digimon stickers that I didn’t particularly care for ’cept they appealed to the magpie in me, furry apple stickers that I delighted in running my fingers over and my favourite- the 101 Dalmatians. Each Dalmatian in this series was the size of a polypocket and my siblings capitalized on my awe at how big they were to further my vocabulary. Earning them felt like a true challenge, and with each paperback I blazed through, I felt more and more accomplished. The crowning jewel was the A5-sized ‘Queen’ of the Dalmatians. It was ostentatiously large (it couldn’t even fit into my sticker book), unassumingly under-embellished (the dog in question didn’t deign to decorate itself with any colourful outfit to set itself apart from the other 100), and I REALLY wanted it. To my 7 year old self, it would be the sticker to end all stickers. After this, I was done.
The obstacle I had to surmount for this ultimate reward was a worthy one. A thick volume called ‘Goodnight, Mr Tom’, its tiny words and narrow spacing were elements that had long daunted me. My brother had been trying to persuade me to read it for some time but I had resisted in stubbornness (and, if I’m being honest, fear). Now, I began my conquest in earnest. It was a difficult read- some of the themes in there were hard for my young mind to digest- but slowly, and surely, I made it through. The day that I finally earned the rights to that mammoth Dalmatian, I felt as though I had won the lottery (well, in manner of speaking. I doubt I even knew what a lottery was back then) and couldn’t stop smiling.
It wasn’t until years later that I realised how pivotal that moment was for me. Looking back, I think I owe my siblings much more than I often admit. In my quest to ‘collect them all’, I had unwittingly developed a taste for books. Perhaps it had started out as an intention to steal my siblings’ best prized stickers but, as I ploughed through more and more tomes, the struggle to decipher hard words got less and less and, almost without my notice, I began to actually enjoy what I was reading.
As I stared at my hard-earned bounty days later, I was surprised to find that the excitement had worn off. I no longer felt like I held the world within the flimsy spotted canine in my hands. But I was not left bereft- for, in the place of childish want, I now felt a sense of possibility. Those stories that I had read over the past months- Roald Dahl, Mallory Towers, Nancy Drew, Narnia and the like- they stayed with me. I could still see the smoke from the sordid plane crash that had threatened to tear Ned and Nancy apart, smell the grass of Miss Honey’s homey cottage and feel the shiver of The Witches’ toeless monstrosities. It was all real- and fresh. I had only to stumble upon the tag of a phrase, catch the whiff of a scent or listen to the refrains from my neighbour’s haunting piano practice, to be pulled back into these worlds. A magic door had opened and I had, at last, stumbled upon my very own Wardrobe.
And so, it began- my love affair with books. I joined the ranks of my siblings, setting up camp at our local library, each of us jostling for the extra-borrowing rights (because, clearly, 8 books per visit was not enough). And it has been a happy marriage thus far, notwithstanding the occasional dry spell and subsequent reinvigoration (but more on that in another post).
Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if I had not happily bought into my siblings’ grand plan to make me a mercenary little sticker grubber. Would I have eventually found my way into this land? Or would I have continued on my stubborn, ignorant path? At the very least, I can attest that the person I am today is due in large part to the influences I have received from reading, digesting the ideas I find within and rehashing them for discussion in the real world.
And I am grateful to my oddball siblings, who were sly and wise enough- even in their tender years- to devise a plan that so brilliantly ensnared me in the world they so dearly loved, and had longed for me to see.
I will always treasure the memory of that oversized sticker, for it reminds me of a little girl who was so hopeful, her heart fluttering, as she stood gazing out at the endless worlds of possibility beyond.