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Rediscovering reading: from dragging heels to devouring books

I got lost a lot when I was growing up.

My habit of reading as many street signs as I could as we passed them by meant I could tell you which shops on the road sold hot chocolate and how much it cost, but not where I was or how I’d got there. I’d been too busy reading the signage to notice anything else.

When I was about ten my family would play a game of ‘let Megan direct us home’ from the local supermarket. Let’s just say the results were unpredictable. These days I’m still often found lost in restaurants (in my defence, there are signs to follow on the way to the loos, but no signs on the way back…).

I’d read road signs, shop signs, posters, billboards, comics, Ceefax, magazines.

What I didn’t read, really, were books.

Before I started school I’d devoured books.

I learned to read with Puddle Lane and Meg and Mog (for some reason I was often given the latter as birthday presents). But when I started school reading became a chore. The pages seemed to drag by, I had to read everything 63 times for it to go into my brain and then I’d forget it by the next day.

I think the problem was that I was being told what to read rather than picking for myself.

I’m still picky like that. There were, of course, the odd exceptions (Roald Dahl’s The Twits and Matilda stand out, and Judith Kerr’s wonderful When Hitler Stole White Rabbit), but on the whole, the thought of having to find a book in the school library filled me with dread.

I only rediscovered books when I went to university.

I think that’s because finally I was allowed to read what I wanted, for pleasure. Yes, of course, I had books to read for essays at uni. But I also had space and time away from that (and away from a TV) to rediscover the joy of reading, and I remember that time VIVIDLY.

I read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. I read Alex Garland’s The Beach. I read Birdsong, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Lord of the Rings. I read the first couple of Harry Potter books, as they started doing the rounds in our halls. I could pick and choose. I could give up if I decided I really hated a book – but the freedom to do that meant it barely ever happened.

I find it sad that I spent so much of my school life bored to tears by books.

I’m proof, though, that you shouldn’t give up on someone as ‘not a reader’ just because they’re not a reader at that point in their life. I think everyone is a reader if you can find the right thing for them to read. And that’s why allowing children the choice to pick what they love, and helping them enthuse about that, is so important and in a way, so magical. It can open up worlds of imagination for them, and with imagination comes possibility.

Reading is important for anyone who wants to write.

Not only does it introduce you to new ideas and diverse points of view (good for anyone – adult or child!), it also shows you different ways of using language, different styles, different flavours of tone and different ways of stringing together words to make yourself heard. Anyone who writes should read.

And as for these days.

Reading has grown with me, and it’s still a huge part of my life. Right now I’m reading Rivers of London, which has been recommended to me more times than I can remember but which I only recently got my hands on (I never was one to keep up with trends and have the latest of anything). Anyway, things to do, people to see. I’m off to the pub for book club…

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