Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Binding Books

Yes, two blog posts within one hour. After the last post I feel the need to talk about something a little more thoughtful. So, here I am talking about my relationship with books.

I was always a precocious reader. The earliest book I remember reading out loud was Dick and Dora at the beginning of Grade One, just to prove I could. My teacher (Miss Gaunt) then went into a Grade Two class and borrowed books for me to read. The first novel I remember reading and immediately re-reading was The Chrysalids. My Grade Three teacher (Miss Barradene) read us the first chapter on a Friday but I couldn't wait through the weekend to find out what happened next, so I asked to borrow it. Happily for me, she said yes. I returned it Monday, complete and then had the joy of listening to it being read a chapter a day until the rest of the class caught up.  The first novel I read in a day was Five Go To Smuggler's Top when I was in Grade Four and after that I was disappointed if every book wasn't read in a day.

Then came Grade Five and my childhood ended.

I discovered adult novels and possibly at just the right time. My mum left when I was nine. The repercussions of this have been discussed at length but one of them includes my access to reading matter. When Mum left she really didn't have time to pack much more than a bag and my ABBA cassettes (true story). In her wake she left most of her clothes, her sewing machine, a half finished knitted jumper and two book cases filled to the brim with books.

Oh, and my brother and me. But that's not the point of the story.

The point is: Books! Lots and lots of books. And not one of them was forbidden to me. The first adult book I read was Gone with the Wind. I was 10 years old and had no understanding of the American Civil War, or slavery or white trash, but I did have a thorough and abiding appreciation for the importance of a pretty dress and so I was hooked. It took me slightly longer than a day to read (in fact, from memory I think it took me about two months because I still had to read children's books, too) but it was well worth the read. I came away from Gone with the Wind with the knowledge that the man you love is not necessarily going to be the man of your dreams.

The next book to be plucked from the shelf was Audrey Rose. All my life I had believed in God, but my God was a Catholic God and I was not aware that there were other forms of spirituality or looking at the process of death. Audrey Rose introduced me to the idea of reincarnation and for many years I became an absolute believer in the notion. Now I see reincarnation as being unfair - what's the point of living multiple lives if you have no memory of the life that's been, but for a while there I tried to imagine what my next life would be like and believe it or not I found a lot of comfort in that.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I found myself at the end of the year reading The Thorn Birds. Actually, I didn't read it all the way through the first time and all because of the adult language. I was the child of a truck-driver who had a truck-driver's vocabulary and yet I had a bit of the prude about me, even then. I hated bad language, so when the f-word popped up in The Thorn Birds I put it aside and went onto something else. A few months later I girded my loins, picked it up again and devoured it. Very quickly it became one of my most re-read books of all times. In fact, I think I may only have read The Time Traveller's Wife and Clan of the Cave Bear more regularly than The Thorn Birds. This was the first novel I ever read that featured Australia as the setting and I was amazed to discover that my country could be written about in such a way. In time I came to read Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Sun on the Stubble, They're a Weird Mob, and many more classic Australian novels, but it was The Thorn Birds that made me feel my Australianness.

Recently I've had occasion to buy and re-read all these (adult) novels and to my surprise (and pleasure) it's The Thorn Birds that stands up to my childhood memory of it. The characters and setting feel both fresh and familiar to me as I anticipate every moment just before it happens, but I'm experiencing them as if its all new and unknown. I feel a bond with this book, a tie that comes not just from being an Australian reader but also an Australian writer. There's a loneliness at the heart of the book that I hook into, a loneliness of self and spirit that I 'get'. I have read a lot of Colleen McCullough's books in my life, and I love them all, but this is the 'special one' the one that made me think like a young adult rather than a child.

Maybe that's why I'm feeling a bond to these books at the moment. I've spent a lot of time thinking about my childhood lately, not just about the bad times, but also about the good. Mum's death at the end of 2012 has me thinking on what was and what brought me to this point. I love books and when I look back, most of my 'good' memories can be tied to a book. My mum and I had some pretty awful moments in our life, but one aspect of our combined time together on this planet was our joint love of Clan of the Cave Bear. No matter how mad we were at other (and I was always mad at her) we could sit down together over a glass of wine and discuss our love of the Auel series.

It might also explain my great love of wine.


Grant said...

I think I voraciously read books as much as you as a kid, particularly during my awful time at the boarding school. I remember being into the thick fantasy novels an awful lot, because I could only borrow two books at a time from the library and they lasted longer.

Lyn Battersby said...

My love of reading is one of those things I'm eternally grateful for. Reading (and in its turn, writing) has always an escape from the various hells of life and I love that it was there to turn to. Interestingly, from the pit of Connor's own drama at the moment, he has, himself discovered reading and today hit the milestone of reading an entire novel in a day. We're ever so proud :)