By Natalie Haigh
Natalie is a student at Sheffield Hallam University and has been taking part in our joint project through the university’s Ideas into Action initiative. Here is Natalie’s account of how she became a reader.
My name is Natalie Haigh, I’m 22 years young and I was born in Rotherham in 1998. I grew up in Rotherham. My parents moved there before I was born and still live there to this day. My grandparents also live in Rotherham and have lived there for the majority of their lives, as my grandad worked as a solicitor nearby in Sheffield. When I was five years old, I attended a very small primary school in my local village which was a largely working class area. I then moved on to a comprehensive school close by where I completed my GCSEs. After leaving comprehensive school, I moved on to study at a college in Rotherham where I completed my A Levels. That brings me on to the present day. I am currently a second year student at Sheffield Hallam University where I am studying for a BA Honours degree in English Literature. An English Literature degree was a natural choice for me because I have always had a passion for reading and writing ever since I can remember.
My very first memory of reading was in primary school. I can vividly remember learning to read. I read the Biff, Chip and Kipper books by Oxford Reading Tree. Reading was the activity that I always looked forward to the most at primary school. I can remember the extremely cosy reading corner where my teachers read all sorts of different books to my class. My favourite was Sheila Lavelle’s novel, My Best Friend because it was filled with mischief and adventure. I loved it so much that whenever my teacher would come to the end of a chapter and tell us it was time to move on to maths class, I begged her to start the next chapter and carry on reading to us. The same teacher created a reward scheme for my class. Every time a member of our class excelled at something or made a kind gesture towards someone, she would reward them by putting a marble in a jar. We kept a record of how many marbles were in the jar and collected them, because when the jar was filled with one hundred marbles, my teacher granted us a full Friday afternoon to do anything that we wanted. This was called ‘Golden Time’. I would always go to the cosy reading corner during Golden Time, and I would sit and read books there for hours. Meanwhile, most of the other children were off painting or watching films together. I have such fond memories of Golden Time because it was a rare occasion when I could read at school all afternoon without any distractions, in a comfortable and cosy environment.
My parents and grandparents always read to me too. My grandparents had a house full of books and I would often stay over at their house. I remember being fascinated by their bookcase. As a small child, their bookcase seemed huge in comparison to me. I have always been very inspired by my grandad and what he achieved in his career. He always told me that he learnt everything he knew from books and reading. Therefore, he was always very encouraging when it came to reading and was keen for me to read as much as possible. One thing he taught me to always do when reading, which stands out in my memory the most, is that when I come across a word I do not know the meaning of, I should look up its definition in the dictionary and make a mental note of it. This is something that has stuck with me and that I continue to do today. My grandad always had either a book or newspaper in his hands, and my grandma has a love for glossy fashion magazines. My grandma has an extremely vivid imagination and she would tell me fascinating stories about her childhood and the adventures she got up to. Reading the Biff, Chip and Kipper books and hearing the stories of what my grandma got up to when she was younger sparked my interest in adventure stories. I went on to read Enid Blyton’s The Magic of the Faraway Tree and Joyce Lankester Brisley’s series, Milly-Molly-Mandy. I noticed that the Milly-Molly-Mandy book series was also loved and treasured by one of Reading Sheffield’s interviewees, Margaret C. When I was around ten years old, I was given Beaver Towers by Nigel Hinton to read by my favourite teacher, another children’s fantasy novel that I absolutely adored and could not put down.
Moving on to comprehensive school, I was given the novels Animal Farm by George Orwell and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck to read. As much as I enjoyed reading and studying these novels, my personal reading tastes evolved and I became far more interested in reading thought-provoking self-help books, books about business and enterprise, and autobiographies of people who inspired me. In fact, I actually went through a phase of feeling guilty about reading non-fiction. I battled with personal insecurities that stemmed from me thinking those books were not academic enough for me to tell people I was enjoying reading, or even to include in this blog. However, I eventually came to my senses and realised that those were the sorts of books I enjoyed, and that ultimately, were a huge part of my personal reading journey. I was reading so much fiction in school such as Animal Farm and Of Mice and Men, that I had a yearning to read something new and refreshing. I noticed that Reading Sheffield’s interviewee, Jocelyn Wilson, also spoke about reading the right sort of books. She says
I did a project on keeping a notebook of all the things I’d read… I know that it was criticised by the person who taught English at school, saying, “I can’t think why you read all this rubbish when you’re capable of reading something so much better” (Hewson, 2015, Jocelyn’s Reading Journey).
I strongly resonated with this part of Jocelyn’s reading journey as I personally felt a lot of pressure to read fiction, especially in school. Therefore, I did not want to discuss the sort of books I was actually reading and enjoying with my school teachers, purely out of shame and fear that they would be unimpressed and disappointed that a lot of the books were non-fiction.
One contrasting factor of my own personal reading journey to those of Reading Sheffield’s interviewees, is that I am from a different generation. The rise of social media and advances in technology changed the way I was reading. Rather than going to my local library and taking out books to read, I found myself reading most books on my Kindle. I also read a lot of different people’s online blogs. Blogs were a new and exciting medium to experience. Moreover, I could easily interact with the authors of the blogs and engage in conversation with them about their works by commenting and receiving instant responses. I quickly discovered that an entire online community for authors and readers existed in the world of blogging, sort of like lots of online book clubs. Therefore, reading started to feel more like a social activity than an independent one. Moreover, so much of the reading that I do is online now, which is one of the main ways that my reading history contrasts to many of Reading Sheffield’s interviewees. Now, the vast majority of my time is taken up by reading books, plays and academic works for my degree. For me personally, whenever I go on holiday is the time that I really indulge in reading books that I genuinely want to read. I take a few books away with me every holiday and I usually get through them all. On holiday, I don’t have to worry about anything else. I can get completely immersed in a book whilst soaking up the sun. And it is during times like those when I remember why I fell in love with reading.
Grover, M. (2019). Margaret C’s Reading Journey. Reading Sheffield. Retrieved from: https://www.readingsheffield.co.uk/margaret-cs-reading-journey/
Hewson, V. (2017). Jocelyn’s Reading Journey. Reading Sheffield. Retrieved from: https://www.readingsheffield.co.uk/jocelyns-reading-journey/