My grandfather taught me to read. To begin with he read to me on Wednesday nights; he would come over on the ferry we’d have boiled eggs and Victoria sponge for tea. He would bath me, put me to bed and read until I fell asleep.
Henry Woods was a Welsh miner, quite proud of the fact that he could read at all, and doubly proud of the fact that he could teach said skill to me. Not surprisingly books are a great comforter for me. My earliest days were spent with 365 bedtime stories and Reed’s wonder tales of Maori land (sent to me from my Nana in Auckland). I still have Reed and all my copies of the Pippin annual. I could read somewhat sooner than all the other kids I knew. As such it set me apart but I didn’t notice because I had my head in a book or reading over someone else’s shoulder. At infant school I was often found asleep in the small library with Britannica on my lap.
At juniors I remember distinctly being accused of stealing books; the problem being that no one actually thought I was capable of reading them.
The first stand out book for me was an illustrated copy of Pilgrims Progress I loved the tale, missed the metaphor altogether but worse than that I thought the illustration of Apollyon was soooo cool. No surprises that I ended up an atheist.
War mags yep, Biggles yep, Hornblower Yep, Famous Five yeuuch, Henry Treece Yep, Encycopedias Yeaah, and rather strangely Aircraft of the Fighting Powers. I skipped the Bible. Solzhenitsyn proved too much too soon but Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov were cool with me.
During the long hot summers abroad I went through a MacDonalds phase reading sometimes as many as three pulp specials a day. I returned to school after one such summer, bored with ordinary words and looking for something new. Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves; but I came back to Siegfried Sassoon a book I had seen on the desk of an old mentor many years before , The Memoirs of George Sherston. I felt betrayed that Sherston wouldn’t go back at first and then my life truly changed.
There were only two rules at my boarding school; don’t tell ever and don’t tell anyone; behind this veil lived bullying and abuse. I broke ranks and told about the bullying of one boy by my then best friend and the biggest kid in my year. I regard it as one of the few good things I ever managed at school. The kid who was bullied the most was never sure whether to thank me or not, after all he’d gone from being a victim to a nobody, almost overnight (we later got into a fight which led to me beating him very badly, something I still regret deeply). Despite the beatings, the property destructions and the fights that followed, I never regretted that act. The change was to set me on the road to political activism, protesting and all sorts. At one stage I was the chaperone to the UK’s only lesbian pool team. For many years Tao Te Ching brought peace and space to my mind
Later I read Marx, Mein Kampf, and the Bible but I managed to mix this with Iain Banks, Gibbo and Phillip K Dick (Far more fun). Thomas Hardy changed the way I felt about life and DH Lawrence changed the way I saw people. Oh and I finally read Tolkein; errrrm seven times.
Being involved with stage led me to Waiting for Godot (got it after the 5th performance !) and Dr Faustus.
At University I read Gillies and Aronson in close succession; neither people nor sciences were ever the same again. I launched into poetry going backwards in time from Larkin to Shakespeare. I even finished Foucault’s Pendulum but failed Solzhenitsyn a second time.
I courted my wife by reading AA Milne and the Zig Zag Kid by David Grossman to her. I am currently reading the Iliad a second time. My sister coincidentally is married to a writer and manages a bookshop.