My son just started school this year and is in the throes of learning to read.
His big sister is a big reader and since she started being allowed to read to herself at night at the end of our bedtime routine, he too has gathered a selection of his favourite books and spent a good few minutes staring intently at the pages, looking in detail at the images and solemnly turning the page. He has even been known to heave a sigh and slap a book closed in a way that feels oddly grown up, as any of us might do, just before we turn out the lamp and hunker down under the duvet.
Watching as the pattern of black markings on the page finally give up their secrets and reveal themselves to him, seeing the light rise in his face as he recognises a word, has been a deep pleasure. He continues to amass piles of books around his bed at night and to mimic the act of reading. However, increasingly, as I sing them (allegedly) to sleep before we turn out the lights, a howl will go up from his bed. “Mummy, mummy, look, dat ‘go’!” he’ll say, bouncing up and down before demanding I fetch him his school-laminated page of common exception words. Card in one hand, book spreads open on the mattress before him, he then scours the rest of the story, a detective in search of ‘no’, ‘you’, ‘they’, ‘I’ and so on.
It’s a beautiful reminder of those first and early joys we experience in reading. Not necessarily of learning to read but certainly of those books and stories that found us when we most needed them, in our childhoods, adolescence and throughout our lives. (I remember, at a crucial point in the breakup of a long-term relationship, being called to Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. It was on a bookstand, cover facing outward, which was a black and white photo of a woman, sat on the floor in a corner of the room, smoking a cigarette and writing in a notebook.
I just knew I had to have it, then and there. It was and remains one of the most life-changing books I have ever read.)
We’ve been talking about reading as an indulgence, a joy, a pleasure in the Short Story writing class, which might sound rather obvious and prosaic. However, the sensation emerged from a piece of homework in which I asked people to locate a particular short story that resonated with them, one that stood out in their memory. The experience of rereading those stories was where the particular, enlivening, unexpected joy was to be found.
It’s in short supply in many directions at the moment, joy. The very notion of it can feel indulgent. And yet, there’s a certain kind of joy, like that found in reading a particular book, that’s not to be underestimated. So here’s my offering and ask to you this week – can you reconnect with a story that brings you a level of joy that releases you from a consciousness of your ‘self’ and let yourself have at it, if only for a short while? It may not change the world immediately, but it will change how you experience the world. And who knows what great things may come of that?
What about your writing?
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