By Emily Nichols
Emily, our latest guest blogger from Sheffield Hallam University, has written her reading journey.
I have always lived in Sheffield, as have my parents and most of my grandparents. I attended primary school, secondary school and sixth-form in Sheffield and am now studying my second year of English Literature at Sheffield Hallam University.
I could read quite fluently since the age of four – a love of reading is common in my family and part of my affinity to it was certainly fostered by my parents and grandmothers. My Grandma has a favourite story of me at two and a half sat with a book which I constantly made her read to me, saying the story to myself and even turning the pages at the right moment because I had memorised it.
There’s always been books around, my Mum bought me a full set of Beatrix Potter when I was three or four and I read those for years. We found them at car-boot sales but had to get some of the less popular ones through eBay. One of my personal reading rules is that when I read a series I read all of it. In my room I’ve got two full bookcases and about three hundred and fifty books.
Many of my books have always come from charity shops but in the last few years I’ve made more use of Waterstones and Amazon. I’ve not used a non-school library since I was a child because I like to own the books I read. This is in contrast to most of the Reading Sheffield interviewees who did not have such disposable income and mostly used libraries. I do not believe charity shops were as much of a thing in the mid-20th century as they are today.
I started reading Harry Potter when I was five, receiving the seventh book for my sixth birthday and devouring it in two days. My Dad remembers me having all the books open on my bed to cross-reference; I don’t.
After Harry Potter I was given The Hobbit, they intended to let me read The Lord of the Rings if I finished it. I got all the way to the trolls but they scared me so I abandoned it. I didn’t read The Hobbit until I was eleven, then The Lord of the Rings so I could watch the films and then The Silmarillion. My Mum used to have a rule that we had to read the book a film was based on before watching it. When I was seven I once unnerved my Grandma because, watching Prisoner of Azkaban when the Dementors come on the train, she asked me what one was and I apparently said very calmly, ‘They’re Dementors, they suck out your soul.’
Mostly when I was a child I would read history and general knowledge books because I loved history and knowing things. I used to read so much non-fiction that my Year Six teacher had to transition me to reading fiction again, although now I read fiction almost exclusively. In primary school they knew my reading was good so didn’t ever progress me up through the reading boxes where things got more complicated. I read all of Horrible Histories about three times as a result. I used to always have a book on loan from the school library in primary school and we went to the library bus when it came round on Mondays. Every summer I would participate in challenges at the local library and you got a participation medal if you read enough. I always did.
I remember my Nanan getting me the sets of children’s books that came in the newspapers; I read Heidi, Treasure Island, Gulliver’s Travels, Black Beauty and The Secret Garden. Everyone used to buy me books for my birthday or Christmas, they still do. Another thing my Nanan did was get me a set of Disney comic versions of classic books with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, I wish I still had one to prove their existence. I have a set of sixteen little books giving the plots of Shakespeare plays in story format and believe it or not those are still useful for my studies, my favourite was A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Strangely, when I read on screens, such as my Kindle, it’s like I unlock reading superspeed. I’ll never forget reading Animal Farm, under two hours, without getting up. The feeling the last scene gave me, where the poor animals can’t tell pigs from humans, I could never describe or replicate, but I was more horrified than when reading Salem’s Lot or The Shining. I prefer physical books because I am able to actually hold one while reading and own a collection of books that I can look at and flick through at any time, physical books are much easier to navigate than eBooks.
I read quite a bit of what is called classic literature, such as Dracula, so I understand it and get the references. My favourite reads in 2020 were the Dune and His Dark Materials series. Generally I’d say what I read genre-wise is a big mix, although I definitely like sci-fi and fantasy. My most recent achievement in terms of reading is all of the Game of Thrones books.
My very favourite book would have to be my copy of The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales – it has over two hundred stories and I’ve read all of them. My Grandad ordered it for me from the publishers for my third birthday to get the complete version. I like it so much maybe because those stories are just timeless. Another absolute favourite of mine is Watership Down.
Right now I’ve just finished Gone with the Wind for the other half of this project. My reading during the pandemic has been quite eclectic with my university reading removed, including Dracula, Dune, some early Stephen King, The Iliad and The Odyssey, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and last night Twelfth Night on a whim.