Growing up with a book…

Jessica Bakkers, after reading Mae Clair’s post at Story Empire, posted about five books that had, as she put it, made her, ‘her’. There is no way on this earth that I could pick just five books… not unless it was five per decade…  Or five for every facet of life…

There were always books. Hundreds of them…everywhere. I was free to read any of them as soon as I could master the words… even if understanding the concepts would only come much later. That childhood access to books creates something special on the pages of imagination, and I would find it impossible to choose just a few to span a lifetime. Impossible too to select just a few that defined and shaped the person I know as ‘me’. But there are a few that stand out, way above the rest, as hugely influential… and of those, I would say the most important ones were those I met in the earlier years of my life.

By the time I came across Tolkien, for example, I was already hooked on books. Miss Bedford, our teacher, read The Hobbit to a class of rapt nine-year olds. I remember it well, mainly for Smaug, and at the barest hint of something ‘other’ that it held… a ‘something’ I would only begin to understand in later years, when I read Lord of the Rings as a teen, but which only really began to reveal itself when I read The Silmarillion.

I will never cease to be astonished by the vastness of Tolkien’s creation. Not only are his books masterpieces of storytelling and world-building, the sheer attention to detail is stunning. Everything links back to the history of Middle Earth, to the languages he created, the cosmology, myth and legend that were the foundation of his world. No matter how many learned papers are written about his work, it is that depth and grandeur that got to me. Through fantasy, he laid bare a good deal of human nature, and, in spite of the battles and high adventure, what I learned most about, reading his books, were the many faces of love.

The very first books, though, the ones that made me fall in love with the printed page, were not ones I read at all. They were read to me, mostly by my mother and grandfather. The best ones were never in print either… they were handwritten in exercise books, just for me. While I have some of my mother’s manuscripts and am slowly editing and typing them up to get them printed, my grandfather’s stories are no more than ghosts in memory.

He wove myth, folk tales and magic into a fabulous playground for a child’s imagination. The best one was about a griffin. I can remember no details about the story at all… but I can picture the book in which it was written. I can see the dogeared amber cover, his distinctive script crawling across the pages… and I can see the images that arose in my mind as I listened to his voice. Not clearly, and not if I try to focus on them, but as amorphous pictures in my mind, complete with that delicious childish mixture of terror and delight. I don’t even know if they are entirely ‘my’ images, because he was an artist and sculptor and he had illustrated the story for me with pen and ink drawings. Even today, griffins… and that can be spelled no other way for me… always look like they did in his book.  And they always live in caves.

It is to these very early tales that I attribute my love of the written word. It is a love that has never let me down and I have spent the majority of my life with my nose in a book whenever possible. Even the speed with which I can do housework and cooking can be attributed to my desire to free up some reading time.

Looking back, it was probably those tattered notebooks, full of Grandad’s stories and my mother’s poems, that first taught me that writing was something people do.  Ordinary people… ‘my’ people… just picked up a pen and wrote. It was that simple. At that early age, I didn’t even think about it, but had I done so, would just have assumed that everyone’s family wrote stories.

Then there was my introduction to Dr Seuss. I was given The Sleep Book as a Sunday School prize when I was five. I still have it… I can still recite it almost in its entirety for my granddaughters, who now have their own copy. I wouldn’t part with it, even were it in pristine condition…which it is not by any means. My name is  written inside, along with my baby brother’s ‘signature’ on every page.  Decades of brittle Sellotape hold together the pages of a book that has been loved now by three generations.

Dr Seuss, along with the Marriott Edgar monologues my Great Grandad used to recite, followed by Spike Milligan, Lewis Carroll, and Edward Lear, are definitely to blame for my penchant for writing rhyming verse.

Then, I found Narnia and spent an awful lot of time tapping the back of wardrobes…especially as Great Granny had fur coats in there, complete with mothballs in the pockets. Grandad had a study, too, even more fascinating as that of Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew, the first book of the Narnian chronicles. Our attic held treasures, just like the attic in the story…and not only was Grandad a magician like Uncle Andrew, he gave me a Guinea pig too, which as every would-be Narnian will realise, made my childhood very interesting. Thanks, to C. S. Lewis, I believed in magic and possibility and his books not only taught me to have faith in a higher purpose, but they probably turned me into an optimist too.

Measles gave me another gift. Perhaps because she was unable to leave me for long, my mother picked up a book from her own shelves. The Third Eye was a curious choice of book to read to a child, and it may be that my mother wanted to read it herself.  It tells the story of a small Tibetan boy who enters a lamasery and is taught by his Guide, the Lama Mingyar Dondup. He learns the art of astral projection, learns to access his gifts of telepathy and clairvoyance… and as he grows, the reader learns another way of looking at the world.

After that, we read every book my mother could get hold of and the author, T. Lobsang Rampa, played a big part in shaping my own beliefs. It mattered not at all that both the veracity and authenticity of his story were later brought into question, what I learned from his books made sense… and made sense of the world. Except, it did not feel as if I were learning something new, just rediscovering something forgotten.

Between all of those books and an unusually eclectic family, it was no surprise that I delved into old tales and explored ancient wisdom. I learned about ancient civilistaions, fell in love with Egyptian and Arthurian mythology, and picked Grandad’s brains on magic. He gave me the last book on my list when I was fifteen. As I read Dion Fortune’s Mystical Qabalah, where the workings of the Cosmos were shown as a simple glyph, everything fell into place in a way I could not have described.

I still have that copy with its plain blue cover, annotated by my grandfather. It still took me decades, several bookshelves and any number of re-reads to really begin to understand what Dion and Grandad had really written in those pages, but the ‘lights went on’ with that first wide-eyed read.

That wasn’t so very bad… I did manage to find just five for the first fifteen years… and only mentioned a few others in passing…

While Mae Clair and Jessica were writing principally about books that had shaped them as writers, it is impossible to separate the writer from their inner life. Even if, as authors, we master the art of becoming invisible on the page, we still have a voice that is coloured by who we are, what we believe and what we have lived.

I will be forever grateful that I had access to so wide and varied a library from the earliest age.  The books we read in childhood shape us more than we realise. Looking back, I can trace the beginnings of my ‘today’ to the influence of those books, all of which still sit on my bookshelves, and all of them are still taken down to be read once again. I just wish I had Grandad’s notebooks…

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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37 Responses to Growing up with a book…

  1. Just beautiful selections Sue! I have to admit, I’ve never read The Silmarillion, which is odd me being quite a Tolkien fan. I agree wholeheartedly about the depth of his books – especially as the template for fantasy epics wasn’t there yet in his time of writing (well, he created the template really). I love your choices and thanks for sharing what make sure you, you!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. joylennick says:

    Hi Sue, What a fabulous, literary childhood you had! Sadly, a lot of mine was spent in war-time without my parents, evacuated BUT – AND IT IS A BIG BUT…i took myself to the local Welsh library and devoured everything I could read from around aged seven. So, eclectic it was…Hans Christian Anderson, the Bros. Grimm,and boy, were they…(so what I had nightmares), comics and newspapers. Dad created beautiful Calligraphy before and after the war and my desire was to follow him, and did for a short time, but shorthand interfered…and while I wrote a terrible play which was performed on a secondary school stage about a prince and princess, I was fascinated by people and influenced by fact rather than fiction, and my only novel is based on fact. There’s another BUT coming. Nevertheless, my mind often dictates other routes and my imagination doesn’t always follow self-made rules. I am in awe of the expressive, wonderful writing of many I could name, including you Sue, and have spent countless hours devouring the written word. Only wish there was more time…that eternal cry. xx

    Liked by 3 people

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I have a huge admration for those who can (apparently) effortlessly create fictional worlds. I’m better with reality myself, even if it is not always what you might call normal 😉 x

      Like

  3. Ritu says:

    My mum is credited with my love of reading… And for me, it was Enid Blyton that really got me going on reading and, going forward, storytelling!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Anonymous says:

    A veritable literary feast here, and an inspired and varied selection for setting a child up for life. I haven’t read the Silmarillion, although my favourite band was named after them – Marillion! I remember in my early teens reading the whole Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series and being completely hooked. And I loved Gerald Durrell’s ‘My family and Other Animals’. I have to admit to avoiding Narnia since primary school, because I cried buckets when Aslan was killed in ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’ and I’ve never been able to read it again or watch that bit of the film – even as an adult! What a whimp – but at least it shows what a powerful and lasting effect a book can have on a child. Great selection of reading matter, Sue, no wonder you’re such a well-rounded person. 🙂

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I always loved the Narnia books…though I still remember the horror the first time I read that particular passage! And I still cry, even now, when I read them again.

      I loved the Hitchhiker’s Guide series. I came across them when I was hanging out with a professor of physics… he and his colleagues were determined to explain how all the science in there is actually feasible, if only theoretically. With that kind of insight into how, for example, you could extrapolate the entire universe ‘from, say, a small piece of fairy cake’… how could I not be hooked? 😉

      Like

  5. jenanita01 says:

    Books have always been my friend. As a child in a world I never felt happy in, they kept me company (and sane) through the bad times, just don’t ask me to single out a handful!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. stevetanham says:

    Reblogged this on Sun in Gemini and commented:
    From Sue on that most precious of subjects: favourite books

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Darlene says:

    Some books never leave you. You were indeed fortunate to have such great influencers in your life.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mae Clair says:

    What an amazing post, Sue! Tolkien’s world was my first venture into the realms of epic fantasy and I was riveted. I did start reading The Silmarillion, but oddly, don’t recall finishing it. I was smitten with everything Toklienese in those days. I remember I even had a “Shire” cookbook.

    Your grandfather sounds like he was an amazing man, and I love that your mother read to you. My mom and I both had a passion for books that she instilled in me from a young age. We were always sharing novels and discussing characters up until her death 7 years ago. When I think back to my parents, one of the things that stands out for me is their love of the written word and how both shared that love with me.

    Thanks for the Story Empire post mention, Sue. BTW, I was a Dr. Seuss fan too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      The Silmarillion is a hard read for a youngster…especially coming from the fantasy of Lord of the Rings.I remember abandoning it the first time… But when I did read it, I was awestruck.

      When Ilook back,it seems that everyone read to me… even when I no longer needed them to do so. Which didn’t take long as I wanted the magic of books for myself. I’m lucky… I still get read to 🙂

      My mother being a writer, we shared those discussions too, both about books we had read and those she ws writing. I loved that…and learned a lot from it too.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. willowdot21 says:

    I love your selection Sue it is easy to see why you are and why. My dad always read to me at , and if I was unwell. Winnie the Pooh, Wind in the Willows, Tolkien, C.S Lewis, Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grim, GK Chesterton, William Shakespeare, and many many more. Like you I was lucky to have access to all types of books. 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I was a crazy mass book reader from as soon as I could recognize words. The best thing I got from spine surgery was being in the hospital for five months and discovering science fiction and Tolkien. I think I read the entire basic library of sci fi while I was laid up. But there were a couple of books that affected me more than others. Angelique (Anne Golan) was one (well eight, really, as it was a series) was a woman who did it all, from leading armies to facing down Louis XIV and the church. Tolkien was the start of my love for a whole genre of fiction. Thomas Costain introduced me to British history and from there, I read the real histories. I think historical fiction is the door through which many of us traveled into more serious history.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I loved the Angelique books as a teen… still have most of them. I should re-read them. As for fantasy and sci-fi… my shelves are full of the stuff.
      France was probably the best thing that happened to me where books were concerned. Although I read a lot of book sin French and learned a lot of French from them, I read my way through every book in English in the Vichy library… including their archives.. and thus read a lot of books I would never have picked up, from James Bond to medieval literature and dry-as-dust scientific treatises.

      Like

  11. It is really an honor and a pleasure to read what books everyone read when we were all young. Neither my mother or father ever finished high school, so they never read to us. But I learned how much reading meant to me when we were in Okinawa (I was 4th and 5th grades) and we had a one-room classroom. There were shelves of books, and Victor Hugo was one of my earliest loves of reading. It is strange, but one of the things I remember the most is his attention to detail, like spending the time to describe in great detail the parapet of a roof right in the midst of the insanity of the times. It is a reminder that there is always a place where we can find peace and sanity, and to feed our souls in the midst of the worst of times.
    Treasure Island was another book I liked because this young boy, taken by the pirates, was able to remain in control of himself and to end up with his life and soul intact. It is a very empowering story for children I think.
    Reading was freedom for me, and to this day, I still love it. I love that it can take us on journeys far beyond our immediate imagination and to help us to know that there are many worlds and many realities out there. Thank you very kindly.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Jennie says:

    I love, love this! Dr. Seuss did more for early readers than most books. You have a treasure trove, Sue.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Early and late, Jennie. When Nick needed to learn to speak again after the attack, it was reading Dr Seuss aloud that retrained his diction. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jennie says:

        OMG! I am not surprised at all. Actually, I am thrilled, as this adds more confirmation to the power of Dr. Seuss’s rhyming and interesting text. I dearly wish my first and second grade teachers had used Dr. Seuss instead of Dick and Jane to teach reading. Back then it was controversial. How sad! What a wonderful book series for Nick and retraining his diction.

        Like

  13. This is a terrific post, Jessica and Sue.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. That was a lovely post!

    Like

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