Posted weekly on Tuesdays, Reading Roots features a variety of book bloggers talking about their early reading influences and experiences, letting us catch a glimpse of the “roots” that each person has built upon in forming their identity as “a reader”.
Today, I’m interviewing Elizabeth from Fiction Bitch. Let’s explore her reading roots!
What is your earliest memory involving books or reading? How were books, reading, and literacy approached in your childhood home? Were your parents or other family members “readers”?
My earliest reading memory is my mum reading to me from a book called ‘The Poky Little Puppy’, about a litter of puppies who kept escaping through a hole in the fence and being punished by being sent to bed with no supper, though the most adventurous one, ‘the poky puppy’, stayed out later than the rest and crept back unnoticed and so got to eat everyone’s supper as well as his own, but finally came a-cropper. She must have started reading it to me when I was about two but I ended up reading it for myself, over and over. It filled me with feelings of excitement and longing and loss, and was just a brilliant grounding in the emotive power of fiction, and, for someone who became a writer, in language: I looked it out to write this (I’ve kept it!), and its prose is very rhythmic and poetic. My mum always read to me and encouraged me to read, and soon I was reading all the time to my younger sister – which my mother tells me actually stopped her from reading for herself for a long time. We weren’t very well off in those early days, but my dad used to bring us books back from second-hand shops, and as soon as I was old enough I went alone to the library every Saturday to exchange my books, which I was encouraged to do. I used to save up my pocket money and buy the abridged Regents Classics from Woolworth. I have to say that my mum never actually did much reading while I was a child, she was always too busy, but she talked all the time about the novels she’d read when she was younger and quoted long chunks from poetry she’d learned off by heart at school. My dad didn’t read fiction but read factual books on subjects like astronomy.
Did you enjoy language arts/English classes as a kid, or were you more of a reluctant reader? When did you first consider yourself “a reader”?
Yes, English was always my favourite and best subject, and you couldn’t stop me reading. It’s what I did by default – if I wasn’t writing and drawing my own stories. For a long time I never actually thought of myself as a ‘reader’ any more than I thought of myself as a ‘breather’, but in my teenage years I began to realize that there were teenagers who weren’t nearly so enamoured of books and had never been so.
Did you have any interesting reading habits when you were growing up? Do you still have them now?
I always felt compelled to try and finish a book even if I didn’t much like it – something about being sure to give the book its due, or maybe the sense of missing something – and I still feel the same. There are books I’ve failed to finish but they are surrounded for me by a sense of guilt and failure!
Where was your favourite spot to read as a kid? Are there any books you distinctly remember from your childhood? Why?
I loved to read on my bed in my room while eating a huge apple – that was bliss. The books I remember most distinctly are Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Adventure series which I collected obsessively, and the ones I read over and over because I really loved them: Little Women, What Katy Did, David Copperfield and Jane Eyre.
How have your reading tastes developed from childhood until now? What were the phases that you went through along the way?
When I was about 15 I stumbled on a John Updike novel in the library, and that opened up for me a very different kind of literature from that I’d been immersed in at home and school. I went on to do an English degree and once more had to concentrate on the classics, but after that I spent most of my reading catching up on contemporary British and US literature. Later a friend began to lend me European literature in translation. I guess I’ve ended up quite an eclectic reader when it comes to fiction – though my reading is essentially ‘literary.’
Bonus Literacy Question: If you have children, how did you encourage them (or how are you encouraging them) to become readers? If you do not have children of your own, what do you think is the most important thing to focus on in order to promote reading in the coming generations?
I read to them from a very early age as my mum had read to me.
I hope you enjoyed learning about Elizabeth as much as I did! If you haven’t read her blog before, I suggest that you go take a look.
See you next week for a look into the “roots” of another fantastic blogger!