My youngest son, Sam, has just given up wanting to be read-to in bed at night. He is Nine. Suddenly, he only wants to snuggle up under the quilt and read himself to sleep.
As a matter of interest, the book that grabbed him and made him want to do this is called ‘The Name of This Book is Secret’ by Pseudonymous Bosch – which is possibly not the writer’s real name. I don’t know anything else about it, sorry.
Thus ends my ten-year stint of reading every night to our two children. It’s something I have enjoyed enormously and would recommend wholeheartedly. Along the way I have read aloud ‘The Lord of the Rings’, The Hobbit’ all of the ‘Harry Potters’, ‘Watership Down’, ‘Winnie The Pooh’ (which is wonderful to read aloud) and many many others. Just a few pages a night, every night. It's stunning how much ground gets covered.
As we peeped in the other night at Sam reading his own substantial book, Trish remarked that this was a gift I had given both of our kids. If that’s true, I’m very pleased. I myself have adored reading for a very long time.
And I started so very very young.
Well, not so much 'reading' as 'reading adult books'.
My parents were very protective of what I was allowed to watch on television but they never seemed to realise that books could be so much more vibrant, descriptive and damned informative than TV could ever hope to be. I quickly got bored with ‘Famous Fives and such and so, when I began to dig around in the adult section of the library, nobody seemed to mind.
I arrived in post-primary school, aged eleven, and the English teacher asked what was the last book we had read, she was a bit taken aback when I told her it was ‘Papillon’. She took it on board though and slipped me a copy of John McGahern’s ‘The Dark’ while the others were catching up with Dear Enid. That teacher, Patricia O’Higgins, was a huge influence in my pursuing my writing in the way that I have. I should really thank her for it somewhere other than here.
Was it a co-incidence then that, at the end of first year in that school, I was given a book prize for coming second in the class? (I nearly always come second in things). The book was the rudest book I have ever owned. It was called ‘A Little Treasury of Limericks Fair and Foul’ and whoever picked it out for me could not have misunderstood the level of content within because it was copiously illustrated. That book met the same fate as The Dice Man, which I will come to in a minute, but not before I practically memorised it. I still get laughs from recounting the verse therein from time to time.
Where was I?
Ah, yes, The Dice Man…
At some stage, I got some kind of cold or flu and I demanded that Mum go and get me a book to tide me over. The book I wanted helps me date that sickness quite accurately. I wanted a copy of Spike Milligan’s latest war memoirs which were called “Rommel?” “Gunner Who?” and which was brand new out. That came out in 1974 so I was eleven at the time.
I got the book. It was funny but didn’t last long. I needed something else to read. Mum dug in a cupboard and came out with a thick battered paperback – ‘The Dice Man’ by Luke Rhinehart. I don’t know how this book came to be in that cupboard. Nobody in our house had ever read that book, that’s for sure. If Mum had only read the blurb on the back, she would never have given it to me. That blurb on the back was so misogynistic and sexually explicit that I would even not be comfortable reproducing the text here although I remember it word-for-word.
So there was me, in my sick bed, aged eleven, reading The Dice Man and quite enjoying it. It was rude and wrong and overly-educational but I soaked it up and moved on.
The big problem was what to do with it after I was finished with it and feeling better. Should I have handed it back to Mum, say, “Thanks, that was great.”
In the end, I wrapped the book in a plastic bag, took a spade, and buried the little package in the back garden, behind the old shed. The limerick book went there too some time after. Thankfully, that marked the end of my book-burying career.
So maybe I have given my kids the gift of reading – I hope so. What I won’t be giving them any time soon is the gift of adult reading.
They’ll probably be a little behind me in that respect.
I can live with that.