Inspiring Young Readers
As I was recently putting my thoughts together for my dad's funeral eulogy I started to think about whether to what extent he had influenced my love of books. He certainly used to enjoy making up stories and had himself been entranced by his own invalid father entertaining him and his sisters as small children. Every family has stories that get passed down and I remember squealing with delight at the gleeful revelation by my aunt that on one occasion he had become so over excited at the events of a particular story that he wet himself. This unfortunate and messy event was made more memorable for everyone as he was perched on his father's shoulders at the time ( his favourite comfy spot apparently).
But did he like books as a child ? His family didn't have any spare cash, particularly as his father couldn't work so I doubt whether there were many books in the house. I'm pretty sure that he enjoyed reading comics that were probably shared between friends rather than owned by him exclusively. I don't remember him ever talking about reading books although as an adult he was a lover of many classics, especially those by Dickens which he probably came across at grammar school. He also really liked ghost stories, especially at Christmas. Recently looking through through my parents eclectic collection I spotted a couple of poetry anthologies with dedications to him from close friends which he presumably kept because he liked them. Or perhaps they were just kept for sentimental reasons? He definitely enjoyed some Shakespeare, D.H.Lawrence, H.E.Bates, Dylan Thomas and apparently liked John Betjeman a lot. We read some of these rather gloomy poems aloud to him in the last weeks of his life which hopefully he appreciated, even if we didn't very much.
When he was a younger man he liked a good thriller and was often to be seen reading the latest Dennis Wheatley or Wilbur Smith and I also remember that he enjoyed the witty adventures of Bill Bryson very much. Like many of my generation, going to the library with my parents was part of my early childhood and he and my mother continued to go regularly every few weeks until about four years ago when he started to have cognitive problems associated with the onset of dementia.
He was an educated man who always encouraged all his children and grandchildren to read widely. Once I could read by myself, I would always have comics delivered, Diana on Mondays and Bunty on Tuesdays and the wonderful annuals of course. I would always have at least one other book gift at birthdays and Christmas, as he did as well. These were usually non -fiction books because he was an avid walker, bird and butterfly watcher. On the other hand, liking to do something doesn't necessarily mean that you want to read about it and these kind of books were consigned to the bookcase rarely consulted after the initial feigned delight! I don't think that reading was his preferred leisure occupation as it was rather too sedentary. He would occasionally have a go at tackling something demanding because he felt he should. For instance I have a very distant memory of him trying several times to read 'Ulysses' and giving up because it made no sense to him ... I think he approached this book as a bit of a chore that he felt he had to battle with. More recently, it became something of a family joke that he kept trying to read ' The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' but couldn't get it at all. He would keep trying and become more and more exasperated in the process.
So, back to my original speculation - did he make me a reader? Yes of course he did, but I wish we had talked about books a bit more so that I could make a better job of writing this piece. Thanks dad.
16th November 2015