Saturday, 13 June 2009

Change with Age?

This morning I have been catching up with some Bookcrossing admin. Since I joined Bookcrossing in 2004 I've found more and more books I've wanted to read. In those five years I have slowly, and unwilling, come to realise that the chances of me reading these books before I die is very slim. Unless I have some 'orrible accident involving my legs and am in a plaster cast for some time. But yes, it's time for a book purge. I work near a lot of charity shops that have books on sale for ridiculous prices. Sometimes I can pick up a whole bag for under a fiver. Then there's Borders who stock the Penguin and Wordsworth classic editions that sell for less than £2. And that's where the connection with this post lies.

I have always been a reader. Technically before I could properly read. My parents probably spent a lot of money on audiobooks and I worked out how to use the cassette player (huh, how retro!) at the tender age of 3. The Mothership has revealed she was quite upset the day I told her I didn't need her to read to me anymore. I had the tapes and I could follow along with the books provided with them. My favourite was Gobbolino, the Witch's Cat and there was a story about a family of ogores who had a pet dragon. These stories were rather dark in theme. For example, the son in the ogore family had to go on a dangerous quest to save his village. Gobbolino was persecuted by other cats in quite a cruel manner.

Other books came and went. For a while I was obsessed with the Narnia Chronicles. They were wonderful stories with adventures and swords and talking animals. I guess the subliminal Christian messages were missed by me. There were many days my mother would find me trying to get to Narnia via one of the wardrobes in our house. Sitting on my bookshelves were Roald Dahl's finest, Enid Blyton's Secret Seven, Famous Five and The Naughiest Girl in School. Earlier this year part of the myth surrounding Enid Blyton was shattered in my work. Somewhere in the depths of the archives, there was an anger letter sent by Blyton to another writer whom she felt had greatly offended her. Could this have been the same woman who wrote the characters of Elizabeth, Julian, George, Anne and even Timmy the Dog? Yes, it was. The bossiness of these characters and their hot headiedness showed through in this letter. A recurring theme of this year has been the quiet deaths of aspects of my childhood. This was the time that Enid Blyton's light firmly went out for me. This figure from rainy afternoons spent reading in my room had departed.

The biggest change in my reading habits has been a swing towards the classics in my later years. When I was a teen, I favoured Melvin Burgess and George Orwell, pretending I was rebelling. I read The Catcher in the Rye but didn't quite understand what it was about. I tried to read Lolita and found it boring and slightly replusive. Phillip Larkin told me that your mum and dad fuck you up. For a time, I believed him.

At high school, a teacher introduced me to the wonders of Sophocles and Euripides. Works that are older than our society but still speak generations later. I'll never forget the performance of Antigone that opened with a video screen showing past dictators and ending with a shot of Tony Blair (context: this was not long after Britain supported the illegal occupation of Iraq). Words and stories written so very long ago still were, and are, relevant today.

And now? My distaste for the classics has faded away. Ann Bronte is currently telling me some concept of feminism was alive and well in the early nineteenth century. And who knows, this might be the year that War and Peace makes it onto my reading list.

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