Learning to read

Because I came to reading late, struggling to un-code the alphabet symbols, I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘good’ reader. I love books, stories, prefer the written word to audio books. There’s something about the way the written word scribes onto the geography of the mind, building images in the mind’s eye, that is to me the best kind of alchemy. A great story, well told, is to me worth more than gold.

I’m 56 this year. I’ve been reading now for about 42, 44 years. Never without a book beside me. But when I said a day or so ago, in conversation to a friend, “I’m getting so much better at reading these days”, I was surprised when she laughed. I’m serious. Yes, I read quicker, except when a book like The Blue Fox by Sjon comes along and I stop and read aloud, even when I am alone ( which gains me curious looks of disdain from the cats). But that’s not what I meant. I guess it’s like anything else that you do. You give something time, and you learn to do it better. As it is with painting, so it is with reading, and also I hope, writing.

Now stories soak into my mind with such a power, find deeper resonance. I give time from each day to read in the way that others might meditate, go to a gym, run. My grandmother always thought reading was for lazy people. She had a phrase that stuck in my mind. “Them that reads books has dirty houses.”

How right she was, about me anyway. She saw reading as something that you did when everything else in the day was done, no more steps to polish with a donkeystone, hearths to black, washing to scrub. Different lives.

So, I’m getting much better at reading these days. Still learning. And just as well, as there are so many great writers out there waiting to be discovered.

Not getting any better at housework though.

About Jackie

I am an artist and writer. I live in a small house by the sea in Wales where I write, paint, walk and watch and dream of bears and whales. I love to read, have a wish for wings and prefer the company of animals to that of humans, though at times I can be quite friendly. I am learning how to work with wood engraving tools and hoping to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

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13 Responses to Learning to read

  1. Bernie Bell says:

    “Them that reads books has dirty houses.”
    Amen to that!
    ‘Clean enough to be healthy – dirty enough to be happy’ is my motto.

  2. Angela Sykes says:

    I agree with what you say about reading making you a better reader. We would not hesitate to tell a child that hours spent reading will make them fluent and increase the store of books in their head so that each new book adds to the tapestry of known texts. How valuable a skill it is, and that they should practise. Why should it be any different for adults? I know that as I get older I can give a book better attention and understanding now than when I studied literature formally, many years ago. But you are right, reading is often seen as an idle pursuit.

  3. Lizzie says:

    Unfortunately your grandmother was right about me!
    And you are right about everything else. It definitely gets forgotten that reading is a skill that you can improve – and having seen for myself that my reading skill improved simply through constantly using it, you’d think I’d really have learnt to apply that to other things by now

  4. Jacqueline says:

    I LOVE reading and HATE housework. I do it, just so that the house is presentable. I would rather be lost in a good book, any day.

  5. Claire says:

    Books change people every day, housework never 😀
    I’m a couple years younger than you, and learnt to read very young (the best thing my mother ever did for me), so when I had to learn again to read after my stroke, I realized just how complicated an activity is it – the mental gymnastics involved are amazing! And writing? Well, that’s even more complicated!!

    • Jackie says:

      I’ve not heard of this before, Claire, having to relearn to read after a stroke. I find that fascinating. How are you now? Do you think you read in the same way?

      • Claire says:

        I read much more slowly now, and can’t cope with complicated plots with lots of characters… I read more essays and non-fiction – as reading is still tiring, I like to ‘learn’ something as I put in the effort 🙂
        For the longest time, letters and words wouldn’t stay still on the page, and letters still transpose when I’m tired… Numbers are still an issue – often they will not stay still :/

        • Jackie says:

          Have you tried the coloured overlays used by dyslexic people? Sounds very similar to what i have, where the words move around. I have to use the edge of a blank card to keep them still.

          • Bernie Bell says:

            Hello Claire
            A few years ago, I had a serious problem with my right eye – my sight is still pretty bad. At it’s worst, EVERYTHING jumped about! As Jackie suggests, holding the edge of a card underneath the line I wanted to read, helped a lot, in fact, at one time, it was all that made it possible for me to read at all.
            It’s very hard for someone who loves to read, to have this kind of problem, but, if we persevere, isn’t it worth it? I still can’t read for long, and if I’m tired it’s harder, but…….goodness me, isn’t it worth it!
            Pacing myself helps a lot. I read until I know it’s getting a bit much – usually a few pages, then I stop and leave it for a while. Only way to do it, for me.
            Frustrating at times, but, there you go, that’s how it is – I work with what I’ve got to work with. Shiny paper is the bane of my reading life!

  6. WOL says:

    I love to read. I go on reading benders, gulping down whole books in a day. Being retired helps. I have to be very careful about beginning a book in the evening, or else the next thing I know, I’m turning the last page and it’s 5 o’clock in the morning! I’ve been reading 62 years, so I’ve had a bit more practice than you.

  7. Andy Evans says:

    So. I scoured through my book shelves to get all your books together, make a deluxe hot chocolate ( Green & Blacks ) then shut out the world for some relaxed reading.

    After several joyful surprises as I found each one, most signed, most first editions and all in beautiful unfaded colours, my heart nearly popped.
    On my daughters’ bookshelf, hiding amongst her Manga, sci fi art and vampire diaries collection I found a pearl……
    It is a 1st edition, Hardback, signed copy of The Seal Children. I was taken back to the trip to St.Davids, your pictures in the small gallery ( still regretting not buying one ) and reading it to my little girl every night for a week or so before she moved on to all things animal.
    We spent much time looking for selkies around Pembs.
    Im looking forward to her finishing work today and we can remember together.
    Thanks for your writing, illustration and perseverence with publishers, this edition will be cherished by at least 3 generations. Along with the slowly growing collection……..

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