My life’s essentials 11: reading

As a child, there was always something to read in our house: the Radio Times, books, newspapers, magazines, dictionaries, comics.

While we listened to the radio and records, watched television and played with toys and in the garden, sometimes the house would be silent as we would all have our noses in books or magazines.

It seemed natural and I assumed everyone everywhere consumed books ravenously.

While I started out with children’s books, including the one below and the Rev. W Awdry’s railway books, I soon preferred books written for grown-ups and was reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, simply because they were there on the shelves.

Through school and university my tastes developed to include epic literature, including Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West, on which the television series Monkey was based. I grew to love the novels of RS Surtees, especially Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour, along with the works of Tobias Smollett, Jerome K Jerome and Saki. From science fiction to Dorothy L Sayers, from Norman Hunter’s Professor Branestawm stories to histories of the SAS, Queen Elizabeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Stalingrad and William Marshall, I’ve read about human endeavour, adventure, war, science, sex, drink and drugs, comedy, loneliness, loyalty and betrayal, kindness and cruelty, love and hate, life and death, and enjoyed many ripping yarns along the way.

A Day at the Zoo | Robzlog | @robertz
One of the first books I read

Much of my business life has been spent writing, which requires a lot of reading for research, so in recent years I have read less for pleasure than I used to. Social media and the  dumbing down of news has also meant that, like everyone else, I am bombarded with sound bites and news reports that lose much of their meaning and context due to their brevity. I am very aware of this after starting my MA in History, which has required me to read books that I would not have chosen to read but have opened my eyes to the superficial level of my knowledge of some topics. It has reminded me that we need to think for ourselves and not accept readymade opinions created for convenience and, possibly, to further others’ agendas. Learning also requires effort, but, like exercise and other activities, can provide great satisfaction.

In an article in the July 2018 Oldie magazine, Sophia Waugh discusses how few boys read literature now. As a teacher, Waugh is concerned about how unpopular English, languages and arts subjects are with boys, describing how some boys sneak in to talk to her about reading because they don’t want their peers to find out. She adds that currently only 26% of teachers are male and just 15% of primary school teachers are men. Apart from appealing for more men to take up teaching, Sophia Waugh appeals to all men to act as role models: to talk to young people about what they’re reading, to carry a book with them when out and about or on public transport, and to demonstrate that reading is important for everyone. She says this will not only help boys and all young people, but teachers too.

This article made me think back to my own childhood. I was fortunate to have parents who read about pretty much anything and let my brothers and me read anything too. I was also lucky to have many teachers who fed my enthusiasm for reading. In fact, the university lecturers for my MA are still doing this and I am acquiring a stack of books I am itching to read.

Reading, for me, is essential. I hope I can help pass on this enthusiasm to younger generations.

What effect has reading had on your life? And what are you reading now?

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