I was one of those weird children who started wandering round the ‘adult’ section of the local library long before I I should have.
At school, I hadn’t made it past the ‘green band’ books (for very young readers) as the stories were boring and I never wanted to read the next one! Parents used to volunteer to listen to us reading aloud, and once again I hadn’t even started my next assigned book – the parent (a woman called Mrs Canty, who lived down the road from me) asked what books I was reading at home. I told her all about Sherlock Holmes, Terry Pratchett and whatever else I’d been reading from the library, she told me to get a book from the ‘white band’ (for the top age readers) and told my teachers they might want to rethink their reading assignments for me. I shall be forever grateful to Mrs Canty for that.
I picked up Sherlock Holmes when I was about 10yrs old, it was ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ and had a blue cover with Robert Stephens on it – I think most people discover Holmes around this age. They also used to sell the Penguin Classics books for £1, so I’d pretty much buy them all – got strange looks from the woman in WH Smiths once as I bought ‘War and Peace’ age 11 (tried to read it, got as far as the bit with the dancing bear and the bloke sitting on the windowsill watching it).
Two books I read as a kid, when I really shouldn’t have, were ‘Red Dragon’ and ‘Silence of the Lambs’. I must have been 11/12, my parents actually let me watch ‘Silence of the Lambs’ at a young age as they reasoned I’d already read the book and it hadn’t turned me into a demented psychopathic killer (I also watched ‘Manhunter’ and my dad took me to see ‘Red Dragon’ at the cinema).
I also picked up Tom Sharpe at a young age (possibly 11, maybe a little older). I don’t know if it’s my mum or dad who likes these books but we had a full collection of them on the bookshelf in the study, I started reading them and to be honest understood only a fraction of what was going on but I stuck with them. Strangely, I haven’t read them as an adult – I saw that Tom Sharpe had published a new one but I haven’t picked it up yet. I think the first one I read was ‘Wilt’, but it might have been the third one ‘Wilt on High’. Whichever one has him trying to stuff a blow up doll down a hole on a building site.
I read ‘Les Misérables’ when I was 11, it was hard going and very dull at times but I persevered. I hadn’t seen the musical, or heard it so I’m not sure why I picked it up… I might have read ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ and been on a Victor Hugo kick. The gap between primary school and secondary school gave me about nine weeks summer holiday that year, I remember doing a short Web Design course at Blackburn College as my mum was teaching computing there.
Speaking of my mum, she is a mega-huge Charles Dickens fan and I don’t really remember reading any Dickens but at her insistence I did read ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ when I was 16yrs as we were studying the opening of ‘A Christmas Carol’ at school. I loved ‘A Christmas Carol’, didn’t like ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ as much.
It was ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ coming along that really changed my reading, until then I used to avoid ‘kids books’ with a sort of snobbish attitude – in fact, I almost didn’t read it. My brother got it for Christmas and like a lot of books he got for Christmas, it ended up in my room and I read it over New Year’s because I was bored. After that, I went back to ‘kids books’ with a new found glee – Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series were gobbled up, anything by Philip Ridely I devoured and I loved ‘Mortal Engines’ by Philip Reeve (notice it’s all the Philip’s!) Oddly, I didn’t realise that ‘Mortal Engines’ was the first in a series until relatively recently and I must check those out at some point.
In fact, I love children’s literature so much now that I’m contemplating doing a MA in it when I eventually finish my BA!