Perhaps it’s apropos for a week in which the London Book Fair kicks off to write this blog post.
This is a post about reading. And about the very first book that I ever read, by myself, to myself.
This happened many, many years ago. It was an oddly iridescent autumnal afternoon in New York City. I was in the library of a school on the Upper East Side, surrounded by classmates as we made our way through our readers. I remember looking at a hardbound book, the cover an odd aquamarine green, with a large brown/white chick on it, purportedly frolicking in a treetop nest.
It was a book I knew well; I had been introduced to it some weeks back by a South Korean classmate who could already read. She had read it out to me, the story a tragic one of a bird that hatched while its mother was away and who then went on a long, arduous quest that covered several pages encountering strange and wonderful animals and machines, to which it always posed the same, distraught question.
Shawn had read the story out to me, one to one. We had already decided that we were dating. So what if we were only six? This was life in the Big Apple, and one moved quickly, before a Puerto Rican called Carlos or a New England WASP called Douglas moved in. Her name was Shawn, and she was a child model for magazines and catalogues. Yes, it was that kind of school. (To be fair, we were both the best looking ones in that class, and it was inevitable we’d have ended up together. Not to mention the fact that her mother, on having met me on a number of parent-student occasions, was in love with me too)
Anyway, I digress. Shawn had read out the contents of this book to me, and I was stricken. Madly in love with the idea of being able to pick up a book, any book, and being able to read, to decipher it, to understand what mysteries it held within, held a strange and wonderful allure.
Several weeks after that first instance, I found myself standing in the same library, my eyes looking for that green hardbound cover in a sea of books that lined the bookshelves. I had applied myself to understanding the power of the written word with great diligence, keen to impress upon Shawn that I was not a laggard, but merely that I had spent the past several months travelling the South Asian continent whilst she had been learning how to read during a hot New York summer month (yes, Asian children are overachievers.)
I still recall my eye catching that cover, seeing the distinctive (almost feathered) lettering and pulling out the book. I can still close my eyes and remember the feel of that book, its cover having absorbed the dust of several years of grubby schoolchildren fingers into its paper, holding out a slightly grainy feel. I can see myself opening the book, my chubby six-year old finger tracing the letters of the title as I mouthed out the words that I had learnt together made a sentence.
“Are You My Mother?”
And so was born the greatest love affair of my life. The love of reading; the love of the written word, the love of finding a book to read all by myself, no matter where I was, how lonely or scared or unhappy or bored or tired or unwell or happy or content or just there.
A love to last a lifetime.