“A wondrous portal”: the joy of reading

Great literature − “the best words in the best order” as Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined true poetry − has always been one of humankind’s richest resources for making sense of difficult experiences and living through painful times. With a little effort and attention, great poems, novels and drama can serve us all as “safe places” for reflection and de-stressing in the busyness of life, and as building blocks towards self-understanding and sharing of emotions.

Those who know me well would agree that I enjoy reading. I get this weird sense of pleasure and satisfaction when I can bury my face in a good book, even on my iPad. However, I must admit that there is nothing like the tactile sense of pleasure you get from holding a real book.

Reading is one of those things that takes me away from any stressful situation. It is my way of escaping even for a few minutes. It is one way to spend quality time with myself. Reading provides a way for me to learn more about myself (depending on the book), offers me options and enhances new ideas.

I think my fascination with reading came from being given books and being taken to the library as a child. I remember that I would tag along with Dad when he went to the library and he would even read some of the borrowed books with me. Some of my favourite childhood books were the Famous Five and Nancy Drew series, Little Women, Five Little Peppers and What Katy Did.  

I can’t really remember the process of learning to read. I think that innately I knew how to do it. I can remember the process of learning to spell – “i before e except after c” and learning my times tables and to add and subtract but the process of learning to read does not spring to mind. I remember clearly learning to write and practising each day, perfecting the letters and numbers so skilfully written on the blackboard.

I can remember the Betty and Jim books and thinking that they were really boring. But the Open Road to Reading was another story altogether.

I was recently rummaging in a secondhand shop and I came across a copy of this treasure. The years just fell away and I had an almost instant recall of the stories in the book. However, I do not have the memory of my friend. When I told her about the purchase she was able to recite, with almost word perfect precision, the poem which introduced the volume.

An open road is a friendly road,

I love to travel daily,

And kindly folk I meet and greet

And talk to them so gaily.

Here in this book are the stories of the Runaway Plum, Two Little Raindrops (called Pitter and Patter), The Brownies Winter House, The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Pied Piper and my favourite, The Apple Fairy. All fodder for an avid reader.

Now as I look through the book I think about how times have changed. The words and concepts in the stories struck me as being beyond the scope of infants school reading. However, I was able to read these stories and oh how I loved them! There is one story about Robinson Crusoe. In this story Mr Crusoe has been shipwrecked on the island and is living in a cave when he notices four “savages” running along the beach. He runs down with his gun and shoots two of the savages and scares one off. The fourth savage who was being chased is thus rescued and is so grateful that he becomes Robinson’s slave and is taught to say the words ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘Master’. Oh, how times have changed!

In the back of the book is a list of words and phrases which are contained in the story and meant to be part of vocabulary. One of the phrases which makes me smile is “a wondrous portal”. Now I am not sure that as a child in Year Two, I knew what a portal was, let alone a wondrous one. And as for using it as part of my vocabulary, I cannot image myself sitting at the tea table asking if anyone had experience of a wondrous portal.

As I grew older, my taste in reading became really eclectic and I find my greatest interest is in books that are well written and hold the attention of the reader by transporting her to another place.

In To Kill a Mockingbird Scout delivers a brilliant statement about reading. “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” Like Scout, I cannot imagine a life without the ability to read. I am stunned and awed by its influence and I feel for those who find reading a struggle.

Anne Gleeson blogs here

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Anne Gleeson

Anne Gleeson is a Novocastrian and keen blogger.

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