By Jason Flowers
This time it is the turn of Sheffield Hallam University student Jason Flowers to tell us about his reading journey.
The earliest books I can remember being read to me are still vividly alive in my memory. My mum read me the collected stories of Winnie the Pooh and we used to take the opportunity to race Pooh sticks at the local park whenever we could. According to my mum, it was easy to read to me because I was always interested and my imagination was captured by the whimsical. But my experience with reading had always been family-led. Experiences with reading at school always stuck me quite negatively since from a young age I was a quick reader. I was scolded at a parents’ evening in middle school because we were reading a book called Buddy in class but I had finished it early at home and on my request, my mum had got me the sequels from the library which I had also finished before we had completed the reading in class. Looking back at this experience now as an adult I suppose I may have been an early adopter of what we now call spoilers – I can understand why my teachers might have been frustrated at me telling all my classmates what happens two books down the line!
My reading journey started at the same time as the Harry Potter books were being written. They were definitely an encouragement to me being read to and taking over myself. My parents started reading the books to me at around five or six but I soon started reading it to them aloud and before long I wanted to read the stories all the time whilst my parents were busy so I read them on my own. Being able to grow up whilst those books were still being released was tremendously exciting and in general, the early 2000s was a great time for a young reader. My dad took me to see The Return of the King in 2003 and a lifelong infatuation with the works of Tolkien was born. All the fantasy elements of Harry Potter that I loved were present but even more intricate and bigger! The Lord of the Rings has been my favourite book since I was nine and I still read it at least once yearly now. As a child every time I reread it a little older the more I understood, the deeper the meaning and the more delicately woven the story seemed. By 12 I had conquered the Silmarillion for the first time and around ten years later I felt I finally understood it. My Dad witnessing how much taking me to see that film had influenced my reading and seeing that older more complex works seemed more suitable to me now started showing me the books he was interested in. As a very busy man who took barely 15 minutes for his lunch daily, my Dad liked books that followed in a series so he knew the characters already and didn’t have to establish a whole new set of personalities every time he picked up a book. So Dad started showing me Bernard Cornwall’s Sharpe series and Simon Scarrow’s Eagle of the Empire series. Both sets of books had a historical element and realism to the writing that wasn’t as present in my preferred fantasy genre but the more mature nature of the writing and the accompanying real-world events showed me the breadth and impact of writing and opened up chapters and chapters of books to read – as well as giving me a good grounding for the soon to come Game of Thrones hype.
By this time my favourite books had got me through middle school and the prospect of going to secondary school was looming. Reading had become my main hobby by this point and I already had a blossoming book collection. Despite being fortunate enough to be able to buy books every now and then I still relished the opportunity to visit the public library and the prospect of the secondary school having its own library was one of the few things I was looking forward to about moving on from middle school. As it turned out being a fairly standard comprehensive school the library was a bit of a let down, none the less I carried on reading at home and using the local library to read whatever I could get my hands on. As I started becoming interested in other things and started going out with friends a bit more my time spent reading dwindled – that was until when needing a Saturday job I was lucky enough to be employed by my Auntie Lin who just happened to run a few independent bookshops. Suddenly I spent most of my weekends surrounded by books and I had a bit of money coming in – so at the end of my shift I tended to buy a few books for the week between shifts. It must have been a pretty good deal for my auntie because she paid me and I spent that money in her shop! As I started getting back into reading a series by Terry Pratchett caught my attention; the Discworld novels are a set of loosely connected whimsical satires on various topics and were the perfect length for the train journeys to and from work – to this day I tend to carry at least one of the series in any bag I have with me. From working in the shops I started not just being a reader but also a collector and all my old favourites started making frequent additions to my bookshelves, nice copies of Tolkien and Rowling alongside my newly found Pratchett. In fact my journey to loving books had such a profound impact on my life that when as a mature student I decided I’d like to apply to university there was only ever one course that was going to tempt me because of my history with reading and as such I’m now a student of English Literature.