When did you start reading? Three, four years of age? You may have started to read back then, but I say it was many many years before you were an accomplished and passionate reader, with an understanding of the purpose and benefits of reading.
What I’m talking about is the realisation that reading changes you. When did you realise that you could pick up a book and three – thirty hours later you could be better informed or even skilled in some area of life?
There’s a difference between reading the Hungry Caterpillar over and over and enjoying Fantastic Mr. Fox. There’s a step-change in the empathy and learning involved when reading through such challenging children’s stories like Fantastic Mr. Fox. There’s another step-up when one reads The Chronicles of Narnia, or The Hobbit. These books for mature, smart children are the pinnacle of one’s journey to learn to read and appreciate the worlds within the covers. But tell me, how many children pop into Waterstones and purchase a text book?!
As we get older, we undergo so many changes, our tastes develop and mature, but we also come to realise the benefit of learning. Rather than being spoon-fed at school, or coming to learn things through our play activities, we can reach out and choose to fill our head with all sorts of information.
For me, it was Readers’ Digest encyclopaedias and compendiums. I poured over heavy thick books by candle light and by torch light under my bed covers, learning about ritual practices of Native Americans and the Incas, Antarctic research, strange animals of the rain forests and historical mysteries of London. The book I’m thinking of is musty and brown now, and while no doubt out of date, its pages still fill me with wonder. This is when I started reading. I read, not as a past time, but as a student.
As I got a little older, I was allowed to read ‘adult books‘ and I came across sex, death, drugs and alternative lifestyles for the first time. I felt very mature to be reading books that talked unabashedly about ladies’ parts! And although I didn’t use swear words myself back then, I appreciated the responsibility of reading them without being shocked! Knowing more about the world and other people’s lives (as opposed to the sedentary lives within my sleepy small town) made me feel the world was indeed bigger than I knew. It gave me hope that I might become something greater than my family and my school teachers could imagine.
Later, as a proper teenager, the local library became a focus for my fascination. Sex, death and drugs were no longer a guilty pleasure; they were standard factors in the novels of the day. I wanted more than the fictitious lives of glamourous anti-hero characters; I wanted real-life to match up to the hype!
So, I delved into psychology, philosophy, religion and occult studies. Reading about sex, death and drugs in fiction was one thing, discovering that planet Earth held a variety of view points about such things was an epiphany. My fundamental bible learning (oh yes, I had read the bible several times, thank you) was blown out of the water by the new (and ancient) ideas that other countries and cultures had to offer. Novels were no longer enough to sate my curiosity; only text books and factual essays could teach me about real people and the memes of the world.
By now, reading was shaping my character, and the World Wide Web hadn’t even been invented yet (although email and the Internet had of course). I was sad to realise that most of my friends read only one or two novels each year.
So while, like you, I started to read at a young pre-school age, I believe I only really began to read when I consciously choose my books with a mind to what they could do for me. Novels are entertaining, and offer much in the way of insight (i.e. other people think differently to oneself) but factual books and even text books are literally designed to impart new ideas and skills to the reader. Business books, text books, inspiration books and ‘how to’ books are direct routes to new knowledge.
As a young adult I read over 30 books a year; that has slipped now, but I’m currently on target to achieve it again in 2009. Novels, business books, philosophy and computer books make up my reading list.
The saying goes that anyone can become an expert in anything, if they read the right books. All one needs is an open mind, a fair vocabulary and the temerity to expect oneself to change and develop. Read the right books and change your life.
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