There’s something about reading books which give you a sense of superiority; the label ‘well read’ is one actively seeked out feeling smug at understanding a literary allusion in a film or conversation will never get old but is there a reading timeline every serious reader is subjected to?
Reading a recent article on the Guardian Online by Imogen Russell William Watershed Ages in a Reader’s Life made me contemplate my own literary upbringing and whether I too passed the obligatory reading milestones that make part of the journey.
My relationship with reading wasn’t always plain sailing. I distinctly remember reading a book about aeroplanes out loud to my headteacher at primary school and being unable to pronounce on word ‘Tail’. My teacher, Mrs Hoggard, was a Trunchbull like figure and made me start the book over and over every time I mispronounced ‘tail.’ Tail was the last word on the last page. Granted the book was five pages long- but it was still a highly traumatic experience at the age of five and I wasn’t rewarded with a dolly mixture like the rest of my peers.
Continuing the Matilda theme though, my passion for books quickly grew and soon I was rushing my way through staged Ladybirds (according to ability), The Magic Key books, Puffins and then I was let loose! Being eight or nine, my reading diet consisted largely of Victorian popular fiction for children (The Secret Garden was one of my favourites and made me want to visit the magical land of Yorkshire more than anything), Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl. I too went through a horror phase described in William’s article, but it was short lived and I quickly moved on to the likes of Jacqueline Wilson consuming the Girls in Love series.
My interest in romance fiction, initialized by Wilson and propelled by Austen started my life long obsession with finding real life Mr Darcys (or rather Henry Tilney as he was always my favourite Austen hero for some reason). As well as transforming me into a sappy, hopeless romantic, my introduction to Austen meant I started picking up more ‘impressive’ books. Nothing pleased me more at the age of 14 to see raised eyebrows at my reading choices. I began to compile lists of every book I’d read, speed reading to say “I’ve read two books today, what have you done?” (14 year olds are great aren’t they?)
Back to the present, my love of literature is going through a bit of a rough patch. My dissertation has made me forget why I was in love with reading in the first place and the term ‘pleasure reading’ sounds familiar but my mind just can’t quite grasp what it is.
I can’t wait for reading to go back to the pleasure it once was. William’s promises this will (at some point) happen and I sincerely hope it’s true. For now though, back to my non-fiction; writing this monstrosity of a dissertation. I can only wait with bated breath for the next step in my reading journey.