“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.