By Amelia Finley
Amelia is the last of our guest bloggers from Sheffield Hallam University. Here she tells us about what reading means to her.
Hi, my name is Amelia Finley and I was born and raised in Leeds. The village that I live in is a stone’s throw away from the city centre and is a historically working-class area due to being known for its fabric mill however in recent years it has seen an influx of young middle-class families moving to the area. I have been an avid reader of both fiction and non-fiction books for as long as I can remember. Most of my immediate family share my love of reading so I was read to and encouraged to read from a very young age. Some of my earliest memories are of being taught to read by my family, I vividly recall reading A Visit from St. Nicholas (though we always called it ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas) every Christmas Eve with my Mum. As a young child I was always drawn to fantasy stories about magic or any story primarily about animals, The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe by C S Lewis comes to mind as one of my early favourites as it was a perfect combination of the two. I would often be caught awake with my bedside lamp on reading past my bedtime or even wide-awake listening to audiobooks on loop played from my old stereo, typically Roald Dahl novels like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I would frequently spend birthday money or gift cards in Waterstones for new books but my favourite way of finding new reading material was going to car boot sales with my grandparents. Aside from being able to spend precious time with my grandma and grandad, I enjoyed hunting for books on my wish list and finding affordable books that I’d perhaps never heard of before. Now in my early twenties I still enjoy shopping sustainably and second-hand for books for the same reasons, I often frequent the charity shops near my university house and online vintage shops for new reads.
Although I enjoy reading new books, I must admit that I have the tendency to reread old favourites instead of exploring new stories. Since picking up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the first time in primary school I must have read the Harry Potter series at least ten times over, if not more. I imagine that this is because I find familiar stories comforting, and enjoy the nostalgia of revisiting particular books that I have fond memories of reading. I also love revisiting old favourites over the years as I find my opinions on certain characters or plot points often change over time as I grow up, I find that new perspectives can reinvigorate my love for each novel and allow me to enjoy it in ways I couldn’t in my youth. I find myself frequently drawn to young adult fantasy or sci-fi novels like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, especially throughout Year 7 and 8 of high school, largely because I was lucky enough to have friends that shared my love of books and popular franchises were accessible and intriguing to all of us.
As I entered my GSCE years in high school I developed more of an interest in exploring novels outside of the current trends and delving more into classic literature. As someone with a late October birthday I frequently had Halloween themed parties and loved anything spooky so I naturally started with what is now probably my favourite book: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. This not only sparked my love of Gothic fiction as a genre but also other early literary icons like Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde. My love of these works also seems to transcend from the page of the novel into other forms of media, one of my favourite bands being named for Angela Carter’s Gothic short story Wolf Alice and several of my favourite films being adaptions of classic literature, probably most notably Clueless as an adaption of Jane Austen’s Emma. I find it fascinating that such old texts manage to maintain relevancy in the 21st century and hope that they continue to do so.
I first became interested in reading works of non-fiction when I was introduced to National Geographic by my grandad at a young age due to my obsession with wildlife. I often read his copies of the magazine when I could and later started my own subscription. Reading National Geographic and hearing my grandparents’ stories from their many travels definitely inspired me to become more interested in travelling myself to as many places far and wide as I can imagine. I also think it’s fair to say that this was also probably my earliest introduction to the world of politics outside of fiction which I have become quite passionate about in later life, going on to study Government and Politics at A Level alongside History and, naturally, English Literature. I’m also deeply interested in feminist and queer theory, that non-fiction genre that occupies most of my bookshelf today. I tend to gravitate more towards anthologies such as I Call Myself a Feminist that contain a series of essays or thought pieces from the perspective of women and gender non-conforming people from all walks of life. When looking through the Reading Sheffield site I came across the Reading Journey of Florence Cowood. Florence’s story stood out to me as, although we were born almost 80 years apart from one another, our journeys and relationship with books share some similarities. A large portion of the books she recalls reading in her childhood also happened to be favourites of mine – in her interview she mentioned Black Beauty by Anna Sewell that was one of the earliest books I remember reading to myself and thoroughly enjoying. Interestingly, she also mentioned What Katy Did, a 1872 children’s book that I only became familiar with a few weeks ago as I am currently studying a Jaqueline Wilson retelling for my Writing for Children module of my degree. Though she had lived in Sheffield for most of her life, Florence was born in Huddersfield and had close family in Leeds – two places I am very familiar with. Florence says that it was her grandfather, a headteacher living and working in my hometown of Leeds, that encouraged her to read and provided her with money for books, reminding me of my own grandparents who I have always associated with my love of reading. One difference I did note however is that though Florence and myself cite receiving books as gifts from family members as a key source of our reading materials in our youth, Florence and many of the other Reading Sheffield interviewees often talk about going to the library for books. In her interview she said “my idea of heaven, if I had to be shut anywhere, would be a library full of books,” and I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with her, though I couldn’t for the life of me remember the last time I had read a library book for fun. Out of curiosity I asked a few of my friends when the last time they visited a public library and it transpired that that neither me nor any of my peers had checked a book out of a library for leisure in at least ten years, if not longer. Although university libraries still garner heavy footfall during term time, it seems that public libraries seem to be becoming more of a thing of the past, which in truth I find quite sad. Recently I came across a trend online where people posted the subtle and often overlooked kind things that humans do that reminds them that humanity is really not all that bad, an example that comes to mind is a TikTok user that said they loved it when people waved or smiled at babies to make them smile even if they didn’t know them, and it made me think immediately about libraries. There’s something about borrowing a book for a short time and passing it on again so a complete stranger could have an opportunity read a story and feel what you felt seems very innocent and selfless. I think especially now, when many things are needlessly mass produced and the ongoing pandemic has put a strain on many people’s sense of community, it’s easy to look back on something as simple as borrowing a library book and almost begin to feel melancholic. Though the small library in my village has been closed for quite some time now thanks to the ongoing pandemic, I was happy to discover that for several many months now a small team of people have been designing and building miniature libraries and putting them up around Leeds. They encourage people to walk to their nearest ‘little library’ to pick up a book and leave one of their own they no longer have use for in its place. There happens to be one in the middle of my village that I intend to visit, I think it’s a wonderful project that promotes sustainability and a great sense of community especially in such uncertain times. I hope to see it replicated in more places.