Books have punctuated my life in beautiful, magical, sometimes unexpected ways; they have taken me to faraway places, places closer to home, allowing me to inhabit the lives of people very different from myself or characters not so different from me. They allow me to escape the challenges of my own life and live someone else's, or they give me a fresh perspective with which to view my life. They teach me, comfort me, put a spell on me, challenge my ideas and reaffirm my greatest beliefs. They are a loving companion to return to at night, or steal moments with throughout the day. As a young mummy, they are a treasured reward for getting through a hard day, or a way to really savour the hour or two when darling daughter finally goes down for a sleep.
When I recall significant experiences of my life, invariably a book comes to mind as a companion to that time and place. I guess it's a little like certain songs taking you back to an earlier time and all the feelings associated. Here is a list of some of these experiences and their companion read:
1. Discovering books with my dear, dear Granma
I have always been close with my Granma (incorrect spelling on purpose – Granma always signed her name without the 'd' in the middle; she's far too lovely and soft to have such a hard letter in the middle of her name); from as far back as I can recall, she's been someone I look up to, someone I love and admire. And boy does she love books. She bought me a copy of Possum Magic by Mem Fox when I was just a little girl and we'd read about the adventures of a baby possum and her grandmother possum together. It was as if Mem Fox wrote this very book just for me and my Granma. Needless to say, I became rather smitten with books.
2. Being a spectacular dag in primary school
I was not the most unpopular kid in primary school, but I was certainly very uncool. In fact, I can still remember walking past the house of a very cute boy from school one afternoon, dressed in a baggy purple t-shirt, tartan shorts, leather lace-up shoes and bright white socks... I waved to him with a big grin, and he took one look at me and proclaimed in disgust, “Oh, Kate, you are SUCH a dag!” I walked home, my daggy shirt soaking up my daggy tears, and as soon as I got to my room, I buried myself in The Story of Tracey Beaker. The story of a girl who was a total tomboy and just didn't fit in, it was certainly apt at the time. But I still hadn't quite put it together that being a dag was fairly synonymous with liking books, doing well at school - at least this was the case at my school. So did volunteering to read an excerpt from said book on full-school assembly win me any cool points? Let's just say that it was a welcome relief to finish primary school and start afresh in a new school.
3. Reclaiming books
Being required to read certain novels in high school really killed a few classic books for me. Is it ironic that I now insist my students read particuar novels as an English teacher? Anyhoo, after being a major dork in primary school, I found high school to be quite a different story... there was no time for reading when there was so much socialising to be had! And boys weren't gross anymore, they were lovely! It wasn't really until I finished high school that I rediscovered my love of books and I had one person to thank. Kurt Cobain. Well, his biographer more accurately. When I finished reading Charles Cross' biography of Kurt's life, Heavier Than Heaven, I felt as if I knew him personally and was mourning a dear, misunderstood, troubled friend.
4. A New World
Going to university is such an exciting adventure – experimenting with who you are and how you see yourself, trying on different incarnations to see which one fits (side note – dying my hair black and wearing tough, rock chick shirts didn't stick in the end). It was also a great time of trying out new things to read. Sometimes, I would be so engrossed in a book that I couldn't bear to waste a moment NOT reading... I'd even read as I walked to class (it still amazes me now that I never tripped over anything/anyone, given how uncoordinated I am at the best of times). I was reading Firehead, by Venero Armanno, one afternoon before a lecture and I remember feeling so ALIVE, that such wonderful books existed! It was a regular conundrum, whether I attended a lecture or continued reading. In this instance, the author WAS my lecturer, and now a dear friend, so I'm pretty sure my reading didn't always get in the way of my education.
5. Secret Women's Business
My dearest friend in the whole world, Jorja, has been my greatest reading muse for many years now. Jorja is one of these people who just seems to have a knack for discovering the very best reads. And sharing books between friends is one of the greatest ways to really cement your friendship, like sharing secrets. Anyone who belongs to a book club or has shared their favourite book with a dear friend knows exactly what I mean. So thank you, Jorja, for sharing with me The Girl in Times Square, My Sister's Keeper, The Other Hand, The Help and many, many more.
Now I see the seeds of book love in my own daughter. At 13 months, she picks up her books, turns the pages, even mimics the animated sounds we make when we read to her. Loving reading is a gift I hope to give my darling daughter so that she may have many years of adventure, discovery, insight, entertainment, mystery and love before her.