Previously I wrote the post “What I Write and Why I Write” – I thought it was about time that I wrote the companion post to it, “What I Read and Why I Read”. It kind of helps that one of my recent class assignments was to write about this. Below is the modified version of it – I have taken none of the substance away, just beefed it up in certain areas.
I was always a library camper, whether it be in my school or communal libraries. From the age of seven I knew how to reserve books, how to borrow wisely till the maximum amount I’m allowed to carry back home in my heavy library canvass bag, and how to read the shelves and find my favourite authors and genres.
If there was one crime I ever actually committed when I was a kid, it was accidentally stealing a library book from my school – I vaguely remember it being about Santa Claus. I devoured books by Mem Fox, Libby Gleeson, Enid Blyton such as The Magic Faraway Tree and Jacqueline Wilson’s Double Act. My school in Australia had a subscription to Scholastics and I bought books every month – much to the frustration of my parents.
A few years later on I’d giggle at the trivial hilarity of The Bugalugs Bum Thief and Captain Underpants, and delved into classics such as Jack London’s The Call of the Wild and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. (I got the exact covers of the books I actually read below.)
When I was eleven in Perth, Australia, my teacher, Mrs Daventry, introduced my class to a life-changing novel called Alanna: The First Adventure written by Tamora Pierce. The character, Alanna, was probably my first proper fantasy heroine.
Prior to being exposed to the genre of fantasy, I mostly entertained myself with Jeanne Betancourt’s Pony Pals and Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High. Mrs Daventry one day caught me in class reading the latter and I remember specifically that she called it “junk food”. She then proceeded to tell me of a book store in our neighbourhood where I could get discounts for good books. Learning from her was such a joy. With every book we read, we learnt about the history behind them, the vocabulary that surrounded them and the characteristics we aspired towards.
When the doors of the fantasy genre gaped wide open I never looked back. I devoured the genre, reading series after series by authors such as J.K. Rowling, Lemony Snicket, Gail Carson Levine, Philip Pullman, Garth Nix, Libba Bray, James Patterson and Dianna Wynne Jones. For me reading was very much escapist in nature. Coupled with sketching and writing, my twelve-year-old self created worlds that were imitations of the characters, plots and settings I read. The fantasy worlds shaped much of how I saw the world when I was young, filled with magical potential and gateways to alternative realms. That’s why I identify so closely to the narrator of Gaiman’s novel:
“I went away in my head, into a book. That was where I went whenever real life was too hard or too inflexible.” – Unknown Narrator, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My purpose for reading altered when my parents made the decision that we would move to another country. There, I admit books were my shields to the curious eyes of my new, strange classmates. For a decent year, because of my introverted disposition, my confidantes at the time were mostly the characters in the novels I read and the stories I created.
In my new school I was introduced to more canonical works, such as that of Shakespeare. There we tackled Twelfth Night, Macbeth and Merchant of Venice. Other novels included Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days (which I memorised more than understood) and Robert Louis Stevensons’ Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (which I found fascinating till this day). It was also during that time that I got enraptured by culturally-stemmed beliefs – spiritual myths of seances and ghost visitations. A lot of the books I read during that time were dark – but not necessarily scary. Like how a child may be more fascinated than terrified of Coraline, I was more fascinated than terrified of the world beyond the grave.
It was when I moved country once more and underwent a tertiary education that my reading for pleasure habit slowly dwindled. There I was introduced to some of my favourite novels such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. But it was also where I learned to grapple with R.K. Narayan’s The Guide – a book which, till this day, still reduces me to coughing up bile.
It was also during this period where literature transformed into something I loved to something which I no longer understood. I was forced to wrangle with poetry in a void. I was mostly silent in class, petrified to give the “wrong answer”. Reading for pleasure was bulldozed away and in its place was planted desperations of not failing, and not being alone.
And maybe my saving grace was giving literature a second chance and choosing it as my degree. During my four years in uni, I could once again engage with and discover newfound love in other literary genres. It was in uni that I fell in love with novels such as Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, and Jean Rhys’ Good Morning, Midnight.
My main interests during that time lay in (post- and) modernism, feminism and Gothic literature. I decided to combine two of them for my FYP and wrote about representations of the living dead in women – It was also an excuse for me to analyse Resident Evil.
However, I can’t quite say that during those four years I read for pleasure. My reading during that time was limited to the reading lists of the courses I took. So the final stage of my reading journey thus far was during my eight months of contract teaching. Thanks to this blog (and also from creating an account on Goodreads.com), I managed to finally read for pleasure and read whatever I wanted to – the way I did when I was eleven.
I first of all started with the Young Adult fiction that I missed out on during my uni days, i.e. Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. This was followed by Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, John Green books, i.e. The Fault in Our Stars, Looking For Alaska, and Paper Towns, Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower, Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner trilogy and Lois Lowry’s The Giver.
Of course, I didn’t spend all my reading time catching up with YA. I also delved in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Neverwhere. It was safe to say that during those eight months I read and completed more books in my spare time than during the six years within the rigid education system of my new homeland.
At the end of the day, reading for me has always been a means for me to understand and see different perspectives to the world. It was a means to make sense of things that no longer made sense. The covers were my shields, the characters: my friends, the enemies: a representation of the challenges I should be tackling. At the end of the day I would not be the person I am without books. It’s a shame that reading today is less than it was – less time for books, less words in books, more competition for attention among the million other attention-grabbing devices out there in this world.
I offer anyone who is willing to share their reading journey to send me a link to theirs in the comment section below! Let us all preserve the pastime and love of reading together!
Till next time!
Disclaimer: The book covers featured are not mine and belong to their respective owners. I take no credit for any of the photos featured in this blog post.