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The Explosive Joy of Reading

September 5, 2018

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Recently, I was asked to name seven books that meant something to me as a child. This would be virtually impossible for me because I grew up in a house without children’s books or novels. At some point my father bought the family a set of encyclopaedias but we had no fiction books. It was all about television in our house, that and the stories we told each other and our friends.

Naturally, English was my worst subject at school. I didn’t read so I had poor grammar and spelling. When I had to study a novel in class, I simply followed the notes the teacher gave and skip-read parts of the relevant book. I stumbled through blindly, all the time thinking that reading was a task rather than a pleasure.

What did I know? I was a working class kid with no understanding of literature or the arts. I came late to it all in my teens when I discovered the explosive joy of reading a novel. I had no idea of how much pleasure a book could deliver. It was like a gift. It still is.

Reading is a joy because it gives me the opportunity to use my imagination. It’s not a passive experience like watching a film or a television programme. It involves me. It puts me at the control console. A writer can only ever provide an outline of places and characters. It is the reader who gets to expand on these descriptions and fill in all the details.

I had to do a hell of a lot of work and overcome many obstacles to become a novelist. I still struggle with it but I think the main reason why I write is because I want to give people pleasure, to share the joy that I experience as a reader.

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