Why books are important to me

Books have always just been there. Loads of them, spilling over their allotted space on shelves, stored in the garage, the loft and the spare room in my family’s house.

My most intense memories of my mother are of her reading to me, which she did each night at bedtime when I was a child. I was number 4 so how she found time I don’t know. She read House at Pooh Corner, and did the voices. Somehow it was just understood that she was Kanga and I was Roo. When I had children of my own and read to them I found myself doing the same.

I remember learning to read with my dad, my finger underlining the words, struggling and failing to read ZEPHYR, and his explanation, telling me it was a kind of wind. Later he would creep down the stairs in the dead of night, cricket bat held aloft ready to bludgeon to death the burglar who had disturbed his sleep only to discover my sister in her nightie and spectacles, reading by the light of the fridge.

These days I have few books, I just don’t seem to need to keep many of them after I’ve read them. You could be forgiven for thinking I don’t care for books at all if you consider the condition of those I do keep. I love the comfortable crunch of bending back the spine of a new book in anticipation of a great read, folding corners, eating corners, reading in the bath till the pages corrugate. I love giving books away, leaving them on airplane seats for some other traveller to find, swapping them on holiday, fishing pages out of the pool.

As a teenager I would love to eat an apple and read under the covers with a torch long after lights out. Some might consider my habit of writing phone numbers, or a word to be looked up for definition in the fly leaf as undesirable.

When I think about why books are important to me and how they have influenced me though my life I realised how many memories and defining times are accompanied by books of some sort or another, from the magical and cherished stories of my childhood to teenage sex education with my peers in the school library at lunchtimes where we would giggle over the strange homunculus diagram with his giant hands and cock. In my later teens and twenties, alone with Nancy Friday and Anais Nin, the Delta of Venus was my bible. I tore through the pages of Red Dragon Trilogy in terror, the first time a book scared me half to death so I couldn’t turn the light off to go to sleep.

I learned what wasn’t taught to me in school about my country’s history, the story of the expansion of Europe and our crimes against other peoples. I satisfied my curiosity about the political history of the Middle East, and of Israel’s grotesque and complex relationship with USA and the west by reading Saed and Norman Finkelstein. How else could I have been educated by an Arab and a Jew? My father believed that the difference between not being able to read, and being able to read and not reading was..no difference. Reading is freedom. The books I have on my shelves now are the ones I never quite finish with. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With Wolves, and Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements, for advice and comfort. To Kill A Mocking Bird, because I can re-read it and never get sick of it. A couple of James Thurbers, because he is funny and I like his weird little illustrations. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, because I might get around to reading it one day. And a hundred billion cookery books, their pages stuck together with scraps of dough and cake batter like well used porn mags.

Books have guided, comforted, distracted, amused, confused me. They have provided hot meals and hot sex and I have been illuminated, edified, terrified and comforted. I’ve left reading at busier times in my life but always always come back to curling up with a book . Reading is a solitary process, it is an important part of my relationship with myself and the time I create to live in my head and expand my universe.

Nancy Reynolds

The importance of books

From where I’m sat in my front room, on the right of the bay window I can see a pile of four books. There’s a Tim Vine joke book. I usually buy a myself a joke book at Christmas, a kind of reserve fund of emergency fun. There’s a baking book from a popular TV show, a gift from me to my hopefully some-time flour fingered girl. Then from a charity shop for a pound, Talking About Cakes With an Irish and Scottish Accent, a sixties recipe book once homed, I can tell by the stamp, at Bishop Burton Institute of Agriculture. Top of the pile is the latest wannabe Po Ballantyne- Kem Nunn – cod Bukowski – Alex Garland baloney, it might be good, it might be good.

Then on the sofa is a chunky Bloodaxe anthology, with many bookmarked poems. Also on the sofa, is a witty but ultimately too verbose and pretentious book about the paraphernalia of everyday objects. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. Best, so far, on top of the pile, on the sofa is the beautifully jacketed, The Following Game, a father and son biography written by Jonathon Smith, father of the England cricketer Ed. I won’t say more about this particular book here, but that I tend not to have a middle ground with books, I either hate them because the author can’t write or it is the most fantastic brilliant book I’ve ever read. The Following Game falls into the latter. It’s terrific. I loved it.

Why are books important to me?

I was going to walk around the house a bit and tell you about the little piles. Say by my computer, under the phone a book of the history of soul music, an anthology of Hull poets that I edited or the pile in front of the fire place in the kitchen, but I need to get to the question, why are books important to me and I will in time.

There is a reason the books are on the sofa and by the curtain on the floor and the reason is my book cases are full. This is a complete guess, but we might have 4000 say, ish. My brother came round once and said jocularly, “Gosh, imagine how long it will take you to read them all.” I never said anything. My wife and I shared a guilty look with each other. You see, I have read them all, and then some. We don’t keep many of the books we buy, we pass them on to charity. But we, ok I, keep some. I’ll keep Fante, by Dan Fante and no ones’s having my copy of 86’d and I’ll keep The Following Game, or give it to a very good friend, these are the books that are important to me.

Here’s me, early forties book cases full, always a book on the go, bibliophile, writer, editor, runner of small press from kitchen. That’s me.

My dad. Champion darts player, student of the sport of kings, avid reader of The Sporting Life and race day Tote cards. Books. I can honestly say I never saw my dad read a book ever. Some people are non-readers. Is that the right term? He could read. He chose not to, or never chose too.

Why are books important to me? Well as TV becomes increasingly unbearable, actually let’s not say books are good cos TVs shite.

You can buy a book, say Magnus Mills, Joseph Roth, Irvine Welsh or Simon Armitage and, it’s like it’s your book. Our lives are made of songs we’ve heard, films we’ve seen, our experiences. But books give us much more don’t they? This year I’m going to Croatia, for real. But I could go on countless holidays, through books. That’s bullshit; which reminds me of the brilliant Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. Books eh. They can transport you, but let’s face it, I’d rather have a shag than read about it.

There’s nothing that makes me feel like I belong as a good book. It’s the thrill of connection. I always loved the Big Country song, Harvest; You came like a view across the factory floor with the sun and moon as gifts, but the only suns you ever saw, were the two he left you with. I love Jeff Torrington, Philip Levine, William Wantling, Ben Hamper and Geoff Hattersley because they wrote about work, what it does to you. They make me feel like I’m not alone. They say something to me about my life and that’s important. When I left school I worked in a factory.

There’s more though, I love Magnus Mills, Charles Simic and Hrabal and I really love Vallgren’s, The Horrific Sufferings of the Mind Reading Monster Hercules Barefoot His Wonderful Love and Terrible Hatred. These are books of real abracadabra magic, switch off the telly, switch off the phone, crash out on the sofa with a bottle of wine. What a joy, and it’s all to do with the search, the discovery, the thrill of the chase, the wonder of possibility. There are no borders in the land of fiction, no perimeters on the realm of the imagination and it’s this that is magical and each night I read to my eight year old son, Dan.

At the moment we are reading, Martin The Warrior, a sort of three musketeers where all the characters are rats, mice, ferrets, stoats, squirrels and there’s usually a badger and a hare. I enjoy it and I want to inculcate into my son the thought that in each book is a story.

Why are books important?

I want Dan and Holly to have this, this, I suppose self sufficiency. Ok, you’ve got your book, you can stop and start whenever you want, you can re-read. It’s better than TV, which insofar, says it’s good entertainment, but not why they are important?

Let’s say something political. The idealist egalitarian in me believes that in an ideal world there would be an equality of opportunity. The easiest way to redress inequality of opportunity is education. Central to most forms of education are books. Read them and learn.

Not only did my father not read, none of us did. When I left school I had no love of books, reading possibly, comics definitely, but books, no. My dad was on the dole, or on sickness benefit. I was on a YTS. I was playing football, watching Manu and dancing to Kajagoogoo.

Something happened. A lot of things happened. When I was eighteen I liked football, I liked camping, getting away from it all. I’d left school with one O level and I started to realise, when all my friends were getting four or five A levels that I needed to do something. I don’t know how to write this story. I met a girl, hippy Sarah, I fell in love and she fell in love with me at least for a short while. Sarah was feisty, argumentative. She told me to go to college. I was a DJ, Tim and Pete, we had a mobile disco, Itchy Feet. She said we’d never escape York. My dad died.

I wanted a better life. I wired up lamps from Taiwan and packed them up with lampshades and sent them to Habitat and John Lewis. I wanted the suit, the car, the life. So I went to York College of Arts and Technology and did a BTEC in Business and Finance.

Ok ok ok sometimes you have to say one thing to say another. Why are books important to me? I did my BTEC, then I went to University.

This image comes to my mind. I’m a dedicated and determined student, I’m in the University library and I see a book, Enderby (I’m 22ish) I decide to read it and see what it’s like. Anyone that knows me and Enderby must know it made me swoon. Then I read Illywhacker, by Peter Carey. What a book!

And maybe that’s it? I was at uni with clever people, we all read books and I never stopped. There’s more. Or there’s something else. I spent my evenings listening to night time radio and on the radio Mark Radcliffe used to have guest poets. I won’t say too much here, but I discovered Martin Wiley, Joolz, Ian MacMillan and Simon Armitage. I remember Billy Bragg on the radio reading Patrick Kavanagh and am I misremembering this? Kate Bush reading W.B. Yeats. So I picked up a Yeats collection, I tried Tennyson, my tastes were being developed, I was starting to explore. I read Duncton Wood.

I went to college and uni to make my life better. I needed to read books to get my degree. While still to this day, I’m on a low wage, which diminishes the idealist egalitarian in me, I still believe it’s up to us. It’s up to me. We have to take positive steps to make our lives better. I’d never regret for one second my personal push and still, I only need to get one better job, then I’ll be richer…

I need to say just a couple more things. Firstly I did some training to be a psychotherapist. Oh, the books I read. The existentialism of Rollo May and the terrific Irvin Yalom and the Logotherapy of Viktor Frankl. When I was learning how to help others, these were the guys I turned to. They said the most, in the clearest way.

So books are important, they not only teach us about life, they teach us how to help. A doctor may read a book, to save a life. Books give us knowledge and information, just think how useful dictionaries are!

So that’s that bit. I wanted to say too. I read books because I think they are cool. I like Donald Goines, Iceberg Slim, Willy Vlautin and Knut Hamsun. Real cool cats and it’s important to be cool, to have cool books. The funny thing is though, I think Geoff Hattersley is cool and Lorna Thorpe. Joseph Roth and Geoff Hattersley say more to me about existentialism than Camus and Wittgenstein, Geoff, who comes like a view from the Barnsley factory floor… but his voice isn’t heard enough and not enough people read Simon Armitage and what about, The Horse Burning Park by Mark Robinson?  

Peter Knaggs


My Love of Books

If you want an education, drop out of school and join a library.” Frank Zappa

I learned to read at an early age and once I did I wanted to read everything. I approached every new book with a sense of adventure. I couldn’t wait to open it and go through the pages. I can remember something that happened during the school holidays when I was nine or ten. I took a mystery novel by Alfred Hitchcock out of the local library one morning, read it, and dashed back to return it and get another book about a quarter of an hour before the place closed at 7 pm. It was a blow to learn that it was against the rules to return a book on the same day it had been taken out. It meant I had nothing new to read that evening, as children were only allowed to take out one book at a time.

All this reading made me, I suppose, something of an oddball in my family. My parents weren’t literary people. My father was a steelworker. Both he and my mother encouraged me to read though, and were proud of the way I could whizz through “grown-up” by the time I was eleven. I must have been a clever and studious boy. I had no enthusiasm for formal education though and hated the boys’ grammar school I was forced to attend. I was very wilful and would only read what I wanted to. I think the emphasis upon formal education and attaining qualifications is one of the things most wrong with our society. No one seems to know how to follow their own nose any more, hence they’ll never end up in an unusual place.

By the time I was in my late teens I was working on the night shift in a warehouse and spending all my spare time reading. I’d buy new books every week and slowly acquired an impressive paperback collection of American fiction, with a few European names thrown in. I considered most British authors dull in comparison, though I had begun to harbour half-baked hopes of becoming one myself. Poetry came later, and I then acquired another impressive collection of books. I have been surrounded by books for years.

I’ve moved around a lot in my life. I’ve lost count of the different addresses I’ve lived at. In the first twelve years of marriage, my wife and I moved home nine times. I learned that the only items of furniture I couldn’t live without were bookcases. I can cope for long periods without chairs, tables, even beds, but take away my bookcases and I am fucked. I suppose the digital age should be a godsend for someone like me, but sadly I don’t enjoy reading anything on a screen, so I only rarely use the internet. I have no intention of purchasing a Kindle or whatever they’re called. I like to hold a book, to feel its weight in my hands, to savour the texture and smell of the paper. No kidding.

Geoff Hattersley


Why I Love Books

The treasure trove under the stairs was our first port of call when we visited our aunt’s house as children. We always found it full of bales of books brought home by our uncle who worked in a paper salvaging plant . Hours were spent in front of the fire reading everything from “Red Star Romance” to serious classics. Books took us away and broadened our horizons. We read “What Katy Did” and “Swallows and Amazons”. We read about girls at boarding schools and people in other countries. We knew that life wasn’t contained in our own streets.

Books connect us with others, past and present. We are given opportunities to consider aspects of lives dramatically different from our own. We can read “The Bookseller of Kabul” and gain greater awareness of a political situation. We can read “All Quiet on the Western Front” and consider our thoughts on war.

Books give us access to a rich variety of language and expression. There is Stan Barstow’s West Yorkshire dialect. There is the Glaswegian voice of “Buddha Da.” There is language that flows like poetry in descriptions offered by Edna O’Brien. In novels and short stories alike there is clever, economic language in which a character is summed up in a few words and rich language which creates vivid pictures. Written language fires the imagination.

Of course, we travel, meet people and learn from many other sources but books take us on further journeys. We can open them in our front room. Which takes me back to the treasure trove and the hours spent.

Jeanette Hattersley

Just Shut Your Cake-Hole and Write

Many years ago I made the acquaintance of an editor by the name of Drake Bamboozle. Drake Bamboozle told me of how he often grew tired of endless correspondence from frequently cantankerous writers who were awaiting a response regarding the unsolicited literary efforts they’d sent him. The editor said he always felt under extreme obligation to not dash the hopes and dreams of so many aspiring authors.

Finally, at the end of his rope, Drake Bamboozle left the comfort of his office and said ‘to hell’ with the slushpile of manuscripts on his desk. He decided to go travelling in Iran.  It was during these extensive treks that Drake Bamboozle stumbled wearily into an inn one evening. Here, amongst the villagers he met a local belly-dancer called Fatima. Over a few cups of Aab Talebi Fatima related to him The Parable of the Holy-Man and the Mantis.

The parable was thus:

Out walking one hot day in the mountains of Persia a holy-man stopped to quench his thirst at a river. The holy-man sat down beside a glittering waterfall and marvelled at the natural beauty of his surroundings. After a few moments of quiet, peaceful reflection he noticed there was a praying mantis perched on a rock beside him.

“Tell me, little mantis,” said the holy-man. “What is it you are doing?”

“I am praying,” replied the praying mantis.

“And how long have you been sat there praying so?”

The mantis told the holy-man that he had been sat on the rock for exactly one year, three months, a week and two days. He told of how he had endured the hottest of summers and the coldest of winters.

The holy man was impressed with the little fellow’s tenacity and devotion and thus he eagerly enquired, “And what wisdom does God impart to us? Have you received any wonderful message for all mankind?”

“He does not reply,” was the little insect’s sombre answer.

The holy-man was extremely disappointed to hear this but remarked with great encouragement what faith the mantis had in persevering in his prayers for so long.

The mantis then turned to the holy-man and said curiously, “Perhaps it is of great fortune for me that you have come here today, and indeed, perhaps it is you, Sir, that is God’s answer to my prayers for you are surely enlightened on these matters. You see, my wife has left me for another, my brothers have all forsaken me, I am starving – I have no job and no food in my larder. Nobody wants to know me. Truly, there is no one in this world who cares for me. Perhaps only you can tell me, holy-man: why might it be that even God does not want to listen to what I have to ask of him?”

“He listens as surely as I do,” said the holy-man, reaching out and flicking the mantis into the river.  “But nobody likes a whining little shit.”

Upon hearing this parable Drake Bamboozle told me how he laughed until he almost split his sides, for suddenly the nature of the world of publishing all became apparent to him.

He returned to his publishing empire feeling invigorated, and now regularly ignores correspondence from writers with impunity; and, he says, no longer does he allow himself to suffer any guilt for it.

U.V. Ray


Why do I like books?

Now there’s a question!  I had to think about this so hard it’s taken me three days to get around to writing about it.  And yet I was always known as the family bookworm, so there must be a reason behind it.

It’s occurred to me that I have actually been thinking in terms of  “Why I like reading,” so I have to start by saying that it is mainly the reading that counts for me.  I do like books; I love the feel of them, the look of them, I adore beautiful illustrations and I’m a sucker for children’s picture books.  But I can’t imagine treating them as mere objects or even collecting first editions so precious that they can’t be opened.  If you can’t read it (which includes looking at the pictures) then for me it is pointless.

I think I get a pleasure from the act of reading that is almost physical, like the pleasure of singing.  Why else did I insist on reading the cereal packet as a child when I wasn’t allowed to have a book at the breakfast table? I would also say that I get a lot of pleasure from the way language is used, whether it is beautiful, clever or unexpected.  But I could experience that through my Dad’s made-up-on-the-spot bed-time stories as well as songs and nursery rhymes, so that can’t be the reason I was so desperate to read that I kind of picked it up from following stories in my big brother’s comic books.

So I’ve decided the biggest single cause for my love of reading is the need for stories.  These days we have stories of all kinds thrown at us by tv, film and the press – fiction, news or “reality,” it all depends on stories.  But when you curl up with a book,  half of the imagination that creates the world is your own; this is your own private version of the writer’s world and no other reader will experience it in quite the same way.  Every book carries the promise of a new alternative world and a new story which just might be all right in the end.

Norma Palmer