Friday, 15 July 2011

Ramblings: Heroine Addiction




My family were a reading family. We didn't talk to each other a lot but we all read. Evenings would find us all ensconced in our separate corners of the suburban semi we lived in, buried in our books. My parents would be sitting in the lounge whilst the dog slept, listening to background music with my dad in his armchair reading a gory thriller, my mum on the settee reading a blockbuster. My brother would be on his bed reading a fantasy novel and listening to Metallica whilst I'd be sat in an armchair in my tiny box bedroom ploughing my way through a pile of thrillers.

 I started reading at an early age and have vivid memories of excitedly going to the children's library section in Littleover with my mum to get out a new Dr Seuss book, aged about 3. I had a bedroom full of books and loved reading all about Milly Molly Mandy, The Famous Five and the world of Narnia. On holiday we'd all sit in the evenings with our books, which was a perfect way to keep ourselves entertained and not have to interact too much, unless it was to talk about what we were reading.

 I've always had a low boredom threshold and found television very passive and uninvolving. I like to read as I find it a complete distraction. If I'm reading the outside world recedes completely and I relax. It's probably the only time I do relax. I'm the only person ever, I think, to have been treated by a physio for a reading injury. The sporty physio was incredulous that I had a bed neck from spending hours curled up in a ball over a novel. I've always been "indoorsy" rather than "out-doorsy".

 I wasn't especially happy as a teenager and found school a bit traumatic and essentially very boring. I spent most of my time in lessons watching the clock ticking painfully slowly till the bell rang. I was also a bit lonely and isolated (see Welcome to the Dolls' house) and just wanted to meet a nice boy like myself. I spent most of my teenage years wanting to grow up faster so I could escape the monotony and the feeling of not being my own person. I later coped with this by necking lots of alcohol and smoking loads of John Player Specials, but initially I became hooked on heroines. I read my way through school at an alarming and ravenous rate. I also found it was an amazing way to get inside someone else's mind. The inner lives of people's imaginations set out on paper fascinated me.

 I walked to the library in Littleover once or twice a week. I'd also go to the school library every day and borrow books. I was on first name terms with the stern middle aged librarian with the cardigan over her shoulders. I quickly worked my way through shelves of novels. My favourite lesson of the week was one led by a slightly tipsy English teacher who always smelt faintly of whiskey. She'd tell us to sit and read for an hour whilst she patrolled the room and squinted hazily out of the window. Finally, a lesson which didn't bore the pants off me. I could read in peace for an hour with only the teacher's occasional hiccup to bother me.

 If I could get away from people, I'd slope off at lunchtime and sit in the library reading an Agatha Christie. I graduated through Dr Seuss, Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis to Judy Blume and Robert Cormier, via Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell to Dickens and the Brontes. I later worked my way through E.M. Forster, Felice Picano, Christopher Isherwood and Edmund White in an attempt to find out what being gay was all about.

 I'd get home from school, greet Whiskey (the cat who looked like Hitler) and retire to my bedroom. During my early teens I read every book by Agatha Christie and had reached a point where I felt my detection skills were worthy of a career in the police force. If only there were more locked room mysteries in the region, I'd have had a different career. I'd get home and breathlessly open a new book and read away. I'd have a reluctant break for dinner, where reading was banned and conversation expected, then back to my bedroom for the second half of the book. I once got into major trouble with my parents when I was caught reading "A Taste of Honey" covertly during an especially dull wedding service. I hate the fact I can't read on a moving vehicle without getting queasy. Car journeys always felt like wasted reading time.

 By the time I left home, I had hundreds of books which all travelled with me from run down flats, to cheap rented houses. By my mid twenties they were threatening to take over the house and I had to part with a thousand or more books. I fetishised books and still do, loving their texture and smell. Had there been a house fire I'd have grabbed my books before waking my boyfriend (mind you, he was a bit of a twat). They always represented a shelf full of memories and were almost friends. The natural choice of career was one to do with books, but I messed that up by running off with an older man and jacking in my studies but that's a whole other story.

 In 2004, I went temporarily blind in one eye which was horrific and scary. I still managed to read by means of a lot of squinting and using a ruler under the words and thankfully my sight was back in a month. My ex partners were often horrified by how much of our luggage allowance I took up on holiday with books. How can you go away for a week without at least 7 paperback books? I think a Kindle may be the answer to that one.

 I still read voraciously. I get through, on average, two books a week. I'm definitely hooked on heroines and heroes. You can keep the television. I can cope without Noel Edmonds, Alan Sugar and relentless reality dramas. Just don't confiscate my library card.

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