Books have been lifelong companions – I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read. At the age of about 11, I recall receiving a large hardback containing abridged versions of classic tales. I suspect the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen contributed, but mostly I recall the adventure stories such as Treasure Island. I read it from cover to cover, but was equally happy reading Enid Blyton, or the thrillers/crime novels from my parents bookcase – quite literally anything I could get my hands on.
Before I went to boarding school, I was seduced by the idea it would be like the Mallory Towers and St Clare’s stories as penned by Enid Blyton. I was wrong – very wrong indeed. I spent a massive amount of time on my own reading. As before, I read whatever I could get my hands on, but I recall a lot of WWII action tales – much RAF heroism and sacrifice, as well as romantic nonsense – Mills & Boons, Georgette Heyer and the like. What I didn’t read was much in the way of children’s classics. Whole swathes of classic children’s literature passed me by. I caught up a little when my daughter was young but, with so much new in the mix, the early classics largely remained unread.
It would be hard for me to choose a favourite childhood book, although I very much enjoyed Little Women and its subsequent follow-ups. In a quiz when asked to pick a heroine from fictional childhood, I selected Jo March – but, in truth, my cupboard was really rather bare. I simply don’t have comfort reads from childhood.
With hindsight, what I missed were tales of good versus evil. I didn’t learn in safety, through the pages of books, about the consequences of being naughty or silly, unkind or mean. I read solely for entertainment and escape, it was only later that I read for knowledge and information, for mental stimulation, or to be made to think. Now I prefer a challenging book, and select purely entertaining or escapist tales as palate cleansers – in-between reads. Whenever possible I select books which make me think, which require that I learn – about countries and differing ways of life, about experiences I’ve not had, about life. I don’t object to a book being entertaining, but for me to really enjoy it, there needs to be more meat on its bones than pure entertainment. For example, while I enjoy humour, I want wit rather than slapstick. I want clever, I want smart. Teach me something I didn’t know while wrapping a story around it, and you’ve got me.
If we take my favourite childhood book to be Little Women, is it telling that I’ve a passion for learning and to teach what I know? That I want to write and to tell stories? I started writing this piece by asking myself the question below, without any idea where it would lead – perhaps you’d like to try it too?
What was your favourite book as a child? Did it influence the person you are now?
© Debra Carey, 2021