For the last couple of years, Reading Sheffield has taken part in Sheffield Hallam University’s Ideas into Action project. The participating students examine our research and read a novel popular with our readers born in the 20th century. Then they write their own reading journey and review the novel. For many of the students, it’s a new experience to write about something as personal as their reading history. They say too that they have often never heard of the novel they review, or don’t know much of the context in which it was written.
Here is a powerful reading journey about the impact, both physical and imaginative, which reading can have. The student has asked to remain anonymous.
One of the earliest memories I have of myself as a child is where I was curled up next to my mother, both of our bodies wrapped in the sheets with only the warm faint glow of the lamp’s light to illuminate our faces and most important of all: the words scribbled upon the page of the book she was reading to me. I found great comfort in her warmth as one of her arms wrapped around my body, causing my head to rest on her chest and the other firmly holding the book into place, so I could be in awe of all of its illustrations and languages. Most importantly I was in awe of how my mother read.
Her sweet voice seemed to make the author’s words come to life in a way film never could. The way she mimicked certain characters’ voices helped to give me a sense of immersion. It encouraged me to imagine the characters right in front of me, talking with me. As though I was their friend. As though I myself were a character in one of these pages. Is it any wonder why I chanted ‘Again! Again! Again!’?
The fact of the matter is, I was surrounded by all forms of literature work, and often finding reality boring and unkind, I’d purposefully attempt to sneak a book off the shelf in desperate notion to create some form of escapism. To me, it truly didn’t matter what I was reading, even if I couldn’t understand the words, even if the phrasing of the words themselves were strung together in ways that would intimidate me, I would still persevere and read on. It didn’t matter to me that I didn’t understand the deep intricacies of the violent nature of men or their beautifully woven words of peace and love throughout the works of non-fiction. As long as I was reading, I didn’t have to interact with the world, and that’s what mattered to me the most. To this day I still regard reading as a private activity, something to only be indulged in with myself and by myself.
Hence why my first experience to the library was an odd one. On the way there my body was riddled with immense giddiness that I tried my best to rein in. Well, as much as an eight-year-old could rein in anyway. I knew my expression didn’t hide my joy, or for a better term, it couldn’t hide my joy. My mother’s hand had already enveloped mine and I squeezed it in turn to silently showcase my brimming glee.
The steps towards the library seemed magnificent to me. I soon imagined how it was a replica of what I had read in the books. I looked up in awe as from my view, the top of the building seemed to tickle the clouds with its touch. My imagination soon encouraged me to envision a flying creature of sorts (truthfully, I imagined a tiger with wings) looming over just above those same clouds, watching me with eagerness.
It all seemed to be going fine so far, right? Of course, that’s what I thought of as well, until we stepped foot and made our way into the building then I saw other people. Now this may confuse you, after all you may ask, ‘Well, what else did you expect? It’s a library.’ This is where my thinking becomes nonsensical so allow me to explain.
Whenever I read, I became completely under control of whatever the piece was, regardless of its contents. Due to this I let myself be engulfed and, in my mind, I let myself be vulnerable. I grew so attached to fiction and it morphed into something so private in my mind that when I saw people there with the same interests as me, rather than make me tremendously happy, it scared me.
Honestly, I couldn’t tell you how I got from that position to soon seating myself down on a hardened chair, my eyes scanning the pages of the book right in front me, yearning to know just why this version of Cinderella gave me the perspective of the stepsisters and not Cinderella herself, but I’m so grateful it happened.
It wasn’t long before I was at the mercy of the words again, and once again nothing else mattered, once again, it was just the book and I. Soon I began to venture out to my primary school library when allowed to and I’d find myself reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, The Tempest, etc.
I soon found myself immersed in the stories of the Celtic warrior Boudicca and the Egyptian Pharaoh Cleopatra. I wanted to be just like them, strong, intelligent, brave, willing to do anything for ones they love. I still do. Some things never change.
My love for reading only grew as did my experience of life in general. I soon learned that reading didn’t only enhance my life, but how through reading I was able to engage in life, constantly balancing the two. My cousin would often gift me her unwanted books, that were in pristine condition on the sole basis that she knew I would love to read.
It would take every ounce of my self-control to not tear the bag right from her hands there and then. On those days I’d spend the rest of my day reading what was gifted to me. If I correctly recall my current total for most books read in a day is roughly five to six. I’m determined to beat it one day.
Throughout my degree I find myself reading more to not only widen my collection but to ensure I succeed academically. Do I still love to read? Yes, absolutely. I remind myself that excelling academically is only a benefit to wider reading and not the sole reason why I choose to engage in it. I still write my stories, sonnets and poems that are not addressed to anyone else but I.
I am proud to call myself a writer and a reader. Writing forced me to acknowledge myself, and reading, no matter whether it be from a book, or a video game, allowed me to fall in love with myself and that is something no one can take away from me, but I’d sure like to see them try.