Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Confessions of a book lover - by Cathy Ace

Do you read differently now than you did as a teenager?

Of course my teen years provided me with school and university reading lists, so I certainly did my fair share of reading “great works” as part of syllabus-stipulated English literature and language classes. To be honest, I enjoyed most of what I “had to study”. Especially Shakespeare – we would read it aloud in class and I loved the feeling of the words on my tongue. Iambic pentameter feels so natural.

What I chose to read was a bit different. By the time I hit my teens I’d consumed every Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Ellery Queen and Tolkien the shelves of local libraries (and my mum) could provide.

Some of the books I brought with me to Canada (Photo by author.)
Then I moved to Llwyn-y-bryn Comprehensive School for Girls. It had two libraries: the Upper Library contained thousands of volumes of what one would call “The Classics” – those books from around the world that had distinguished themselves somehow. So I began reading works by Mann, Nietzsche, Zola, Goethe, Camus, Sartre, Joyce, Austen and Dickens, poetry by Chaucer, Dylan Thomas, Hopkins, Elliot and Proust, as well as plays by Congreve, Wesker, Yates, Pinter, Ibsen, Osborne, Shaw, Wilde, and, of course, Shakespeare, for fun.  I understand now this is somewhat unusual behavior for a young teen, but, at the time, it seemed perfectly normal to me. When I turned sixteen it was decided that the Lower Library would be closed, and all the books were to be sold off at sixpence per volume (I think that would equate to about 5 cents). As a volunteer-librarian I spent weeks sneakily transferring books from the Upper to the Lower Library (and saving the money I earned working at a shoe shop) thereby ensuring I could snap up a wonderful selection for myself. (I might not have been reading many crime novels at the time, but I was certainly acting them out!)

I still have those books; they are my old friends, so, of course, I shipped them to join me when I moved to Canada. The photo here shows some of them. Certainly not all. I’ve read and re-read most of them, and am always delighted to discover how much more insightful the authors seem to become as I get older. Now in my mid-fifties, I am just beginning to understand how stunning it was that Zola had a vision across twenty novels – and that he had that plan when he was in his twenties! I’m so glad I found the books I did in my teen years, and not just because of what it has led me to read in later years; every rom-com I’ve watched on the screen takes me back to Jane Austen’s blue-print for those tales.

So, in my teen years I inhaled the classics - the Nobel prize-winners’ works, the lauded and the famous titles. I’m not sorry I did it. I learned a great deal, and my eyes were opened to a world far beyond the library walls of my school in Swansea.
Little did I know when I first read Lowry’s Under the Volcano, back in the early 1970s, that I would end up mirroring his migration from the UK to British Columbia, and would find myself living not far from where he wrote that book.  (Photo by author.)

After that I put in more than a quarter of a century of wide reading, however, I hate to admit it, but I don’t now read as much as I’d like to. That said, I could happily read for thirty hours a day! When I do read, if I’m not revisiting old favorites, I read crime fiction. If there isn’t a crime, a puzzle, a conspiracy, or a dead body in a book I keep waiting for one to present itself. I can’t help it. It might be seen as some sort of sickness, but, for me, it works. There are so many crime fiction authors – living and dead – whose works I have yet to discover, or at least fully enjoy, that I know there are enough books to see me happy when I do sit down to read.


Susan C Shea said...

What a wonderful story of a born reader, inhaling good writing all of your life. I smiled at your sneaky behavior - all done so you could gobble up more books. I finally had to admit I had too many books to live with so I began to shed many of the books I had from long ago. But I still miss them even though many are easily replaceable from the library or bookstores. I have a hunch we're among the cohort for whom books are food!

Cathy Ace said...

Books are food, and I live to eat!