Today is World Book Day. Taking place on the first Thursday of March in the UK, the charity event exists to promote reading for pleasure, offering every child and young person with the opportunity to have a book of their own.
To be honest, if it weren’t for parents sharing photos on social media of their children dressed up as their favourite characters, I probably wouldn’t know much about it. That said, I completely support anything that encourages young people to turn off the TV or put down their iPad and pick up a book and immerse themselves in another world for a while and really get their imagination going. It’s inspired me to have a think about my own favourites from through the years and have a rummage through my bookshelves.
As a child I remember loving reading. I particularly enjoyed the books by Janet and Allan Alhberg, and still have my childhood copy of The Jolly Postman. I also have fond memories of the poems from their book Please Mrs Butler. I loved the Brambly Hedge books by Jill Barklem and the Little Grey Rabbit series by Alison Uttley, all of which I still have. I discovered recently that Alison Uttley was a friend of my grandmother and she even signed my dad’s autograph book when he was little.
The teen years
In my teens, I was addicted to Point Horrors. Going to the local bookshop and choosing a new one for, I believe, the princely sum of £2.99 was a joy. I have no idea how many I read in total, but I’m pretty sure my addiction started with The Babysitter by R L Stine – ironic seeing as I had some pretty interesting experiences while babysitting myself. I’ve no idea where they are now as I loaned them to my oldest niece and never got them back. Probably not a bad thing as I’m a hoarder and have far too many books, but I’m far more careful about loaning books now.
I remember going through a phase of reading Stephen King, but they never really sucked me in, strange for someone who was so obsessed with the supernatural and all things scary; these days I jump at the tiniest thing. On the other hand, I remember whizzing through John Grisham’s books – my dad used to want me to be a lawyer so maybe that’s why. Despite never really being a fantasy fan, I enjoyed Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Series and remember winning a copy of The Carpet People at school.
One book that I remember not wanting to put down was The Beach by Alex Garland. I was at college and working in a cinema at the time and I remember loaning it to a colleague who never returned it – there’s a theme here. A few years later I went to see the film and I wasn’t impressed. I know everyone has views on book adaptations that have and haven’t worked and I won’t go into detail on this now, but Leo was miscast and I hate it when they change the ending.
At university, I was working on a project that required me to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I tried and failed; I just could not get into it. Fortunately the project was aborted so I didn’t have to persevere. By this point I was reading a lot of academic books and journals as part of my degree, so it makes sense I was deeply into chick lit for a bit of light relief. Jane Green, Sophie Kinsella and Marian Keyes are the authors whose books I know I had copies of, though it’s books on radio history and popular culture that I’ve kept from this period.
I was clearly always encouraged to read as I have has a number of books gifted to me over the years, and I still love giving and receiving books to this day. For Christmas in 1988, my aunt gave me a compilation of classic children’s stories by Frances Hodgson Burnett – A Little Princess, The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy – which were some of her favourite stories as a child. I don’t know when I first read Little Women, of which I have a battered copy I must’ve picked up from a car boot sale many years ago, but I remember my uncle giving me the other books in the series – Good Wives, Little Men and Jo’s Boys – which I devoured. I now have my great grandmother’s copy of the book which unfortunately isn’t dated but must be from the late 19th century. There was also a period of a few years where I would get the Booker Prize shortlist for that year for Christmas which was a great way to discover new authors.
As I’ve said already, I’m a bit of a hoarder and I find it hard to get rid of books – it means we’ll never run out of new books to read. I have about 50 books that I boxed up over five or six years ago with the intention of working my way through them in one year, before passing them on to a new home. I think I’ve opened that box twice even though I know there’s some great reads in there. Our bookshelves are still overflowing though so I’ve quite recently had another clear out. It’s possible that once charity shops reopen, they’ll get a bumper delivery to fill their shelves.
I love keeping hardback versions of books I really enjoy, though I do have a fair few well thumbed paperbacks too. Rummaging through my bookshelves I’m reminded I have the full set of Anne of Green Gables books, some of which I’ve bought on eBay as I wanted to have them all with the cover featuring stills from the fantastic 1985 TV series – does anyone else remember watching that? I also bought a copy of Seal Morning by Rowena Farre some years ago as I loved reading my mum’s copy when I was younger. I borrowed Like Water for Chocolate (the English version) when on holiday at my dad’s and loved the book so much I had to buy my own hardback version. That book had me in tears at the end – it’s a good job I’m not afraid of crying in public as I was on the tube at the time.
Back in 2003, the BBC, with the help of the Great British public, drew up the Big Read – the nation’s 100 best-loved novels – and I set about reading them all. At last count, I’ve read 31 which was better than I expected. Revisiting it has reminded me of some of my favourites that I’d love to reread, Rebecca, Goodnight Mr Tom, I Capture the Castle to name just a few.
Attempting to re catch the reading bug
With more things vying for my attention these days, I’ll admit that I’ve lost the reading bug a bit. I used to always read on my way to and from work, but moving to Camberwell and therefore getting the bus instead of the tube hindered that – it seems travel sickness is something I’ve never grown out of. I’ve often thought about getting an ereader as I don’t seem to have the same problem when reading on a mobile device, but I love the smell and feel of a book too much.
Last year I set myself a challenge to read 12 books to try and encourage me to actually finish a book. I figured one book a month was achievable but it would seem not. Despite all the extra free time while in lockdown, I found it hard to sit down with a book without getting distracted. My boyfriend has put me to shame with the number of books he’s read, though he’s all about non-fiction. I’m doing better this year though and have finished Phil Collins’ autobiography Not Dead Yet and am currently reading Concretopia: A Journey around the Rebuilding of Postwar Britain, which has been sitting on my shelf for years. I’m also dipping in and out of The Secret Lives of Colour.
Maybe the next book I read should be fiction so I can transport myself to another place and put my imagination to good use. Any recommendations?