A question, asked on facebook, brought a storm of answers and a wander back through memory. What is the first novel that you can remember reading?
One of my first was Call of the Wild by Jack London, but one of the books that really fired me up to read was The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. This book, still in print 52 years after its first publication still haunts me and I am re-reading it in advance of buying and reading Boneland, his latest book.
I loved Garner. I think I heard about him first when the book was read on television. I don’t remember the program. I would have borrowed the book from the library. Although we were not ‘poor’ we had few books in the house and books were very much seen as a luxury, but I had 5 or 6 cardboard tickets to another world, or library tickets as they were called.
So, here are a few more from those early days of travelling with books:
The Owl Service was too terrifying for me to read as a child. When I found a copy a few years ago I got that same spine chilling fear as I opened the pages to find the end papers with ‘those plates’ on. Flowers and owls. Amazing. And now that I live in Wales I know more about Blodeuwedd and the Mabinogion. And I have been to Alderley Edge. I had forgotten that I asked Alan Garner to sign my copy when I met him at Cheltenham Festival. If you ever have a chance to hear him speak, not only does he write like a master, but he can hold an audience in a spell that stops time.
I think this is my copy of Moonfleet from when I was a child. I remember being swept away on the tide of it when I was young. I think I bought it with my pocket money. Kaye Webb. She made Puffin Books. What an amazing editor.
My favorite ever book cover, and it was only recently that I discovered it is by Pauline Baynes of Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe series. Beautiful ( the image, not the type, that’s a bit heavy!). This book was a phenomena when I was young, but I wonder, does anyone read it now?
And this is what I have been contemplating. For many of the books that are on the list on facebook are still in print. Some have been so for 50 years. Books these days come and go, sometimes within a matter of months. So few are kept in print and not many have the ‘backbone’ that some of these books do. But even if they do, unless they catch the eye, have a force of marketing behind them so that they are picked up, they find themselves resigned to the remaindered pile. So what is it that gives a books legs? And is it not true that whatever ‘it’ is, this is what also makes readers? Yes, we need basic techniques for learning to read, for teaching reading, but what we also need is good books. So many of the people writing on the facebook thread on my wall didn’t come to reading easily, but persisted because of the wealth that waited for them inside pages, and like me, these pages were often harboured not on bookshelves at home but in public libraries.
Some of the books on this page have lived their whole lives with me from when I adopted them from bookshops. More have been rescued from second hand shops because they were like the copies I had when I was young.
I saw the film of Kes before I read the book. I must read it again. And this is another thing I wonder. With so many new books, do these older, classics, still sell? Do people re -read them? They change as we grow in life. Cider with Rosie now reads so differently now that I am older than it did when I read it as a child. Tarka the Otter was too rich in language for me when I was a child. Re reading as an adult I find a wildly beautiful poetic prose so rich in texture.
My reading improved with practice, so when I found The Goshawk I fell in love with T H White and deeper in love with The Once and Future King.
One more thing. On a Friday for the last 30 minutes of school things would stop and the teacher would take out of her desk the book she was reading to us and we would all sit, quiet and listen. Because when teachers could teach there was more time to encourage a love of books and less testing of children.
And still I am made from books, my house so full with them that sometimes I wonder where they can all go. And still people write more that I wish to read.
So, I ask again here, what is the first novel that you remember reading? You can answer here, or comment on your own blog and link back.