Reading and books

Recently, I heard a senior Australian politician talking about the place of books in his childhood. You only owned a book if you received it as a Christmas or birthday present. If you wanted to read at any other time of year, you relied on the library. He was lucky enough to live in a big regional town with a range of books to satisfy both his intellectual curiosity and his imagination.

I’ve spent a large part of my life teaching literacy—literacy in your first language, literacy in your second language. Both can be a challenge—sometimes insurmountable.

I’ve taught adolescents and adults. I’ve visited households with no books and limited access to libraries, homes where reading to live is a chore and reading for pleasure is an unaffordable luxury.

If you can’t read, many doors are shut in your face. With adults, jobs or promotions can be denied, and at every age you can be humiliated by your peers.

One of the hardest questions I had to answer was when a single mother, who couldn’t read and write in English and whose skills were poor in her first language, asked me why her primary school son couldn’t read. She’d sat beside him every day and watched him do his homework. She couldn’t understand what he was doing, but assumed he was making progress because he put something on paper. Plus, she made sure he went to school every day. She vowed his future would be different to her own. Books and reading would make the difference. When his end of year report detailed his failure, her helpless distress was a living thing.

For family reasons, I lived in a children’s home from my sixth birthday until I was almost nine. I can remember lying in my dormitory bed and reading by the street lights. Robin Hood—I loved the idea of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, and life seemed that simple to a child. I remember finding my books missing one day and being inconsolable until the mischief-maker owned up and returned them. But, someone had made sure I could read at an early age, and so the joy of words and stories and ideas was open to me.

I read to learn and to teach and that reading is different to reading for sheer pleasure. If I’m tired or frustrated or sad or angry at the end of the day, I want a break from my routine world. Books have always provided that escape and a happy place for me.

I have to confess I wanted a happily-ever-after when I was a child. I still do.

If you’re looking for a present for someone you love, or someone who’s in love, you might like my happily-ever-after. Taylor’s Law, Inkspell Publishing, available as ebook and in paperback through Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble and Kobo. The sequel, Grace Under Fire will be released on 7 February 2023.

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