I used to read a lot of books when I was little. There was just no stopping me. I would just lie down with my book on my bed until the sun sets and the room turns dark and still I will be there on the bed – not even bothering to stand up for 2 seconds to switch on the lights, so engrossed was I in my books. I would simply enlarge my eyes (or squint them?) so that I can read the words with whatever meagre light that comes through the window or from the light already switched on outside my room. I remember many times when my father or mother looked inside my room while I was reading and switched the light on for me. If I did not finish the book during the night before I go to sleep, I would reach for my book first thing the next day while still lying in bed and I will stay there for hours more until I eventually finish that book or was called for lunch. It was that bad.
I remember reading my first Enid Blyton when I just entered standard 2. I was 8 and my 2 older sisters kept bragging about the wonderful stories they had read in a book called The Faraway Tree. I guess they said it too many times that they made the young me curious enough to take the book, open to the first page and tried reading it. Of course, I was already reading fairly well at the time – not storybooks though – just those gawd awful Peter and Jane books with illustrations of dull and very British looking creatures. And not even many of those – come to think of it, I just read the occasional book in class and that was really it. Until that Faraway Tree book.
It was that book, and then The Enchanted Wood. And then there were those Mr Pink Whistle books. The list goes on and looking back, I think they certainly affected my childhood. The Naughtiest Girl books which I truly loved made me want to be a little rebellious and a prefect at school (book: The Naughtiest Girl is a Monitor), and some of the Malory Towers and St Clare books I read made me want to go to boarding school. (Of course, my experiences in a Malaysian boarding school later disillusioned me from the wonderment that is boarding school although I have to say that my truly brilliant experience after that in a Scottish boarding school quite made up for it.) And I do remember being crazy about the Five Find Outers and Dog books which were truly, truly fabulous and made me want to try and disguise myself just like Fatty in that book (ah, Fatty, you were indeed my childhood hero!). And then came the Famous Five books, which I enjoyed tremendously and made me want to become a tomboy just like Georgina. Yeah, laugh all you want but at that age, I was very impressionable and idolized a lot of the characters in the books I read and dreamed to be just like them. If Harry Potter was born in the 1980s I would have idolized Hermione without a doubt and would definitely have made it my purpose in life to learn more about wizards and witches and things like that. Yes, now you know that I do revel in reading the Harry Potter series, although this, is only after I watched the 3rd movie which absolutely changed my perception of the books and I realised that maybe, maybe this new author was a worthy competition for Enid Blyton after all. (Wonder if Enid Blyton could have been a billionaire like J.K. Rowling if she lived now, in these commercial times?)
A natural progression for me after the Enid Blyton’s mysteries is the Nancy Drew mysteries as there were quite a few of those at home. I enjoyed those and bought quite a number of the series but from the age of 11 onwards, I was also reading children’s fantasy. Again, I was introduced to these books by one of my sisters who I think was introduced to them by my brother. What a marvellous, marvellous experience it was at the time, reading about all those imaginary children who can go across worlds and travel through time. And they usually have a mission – to find their parents, to help a friend, to overthrow an evil ruler or simply to find their way home. I remember I had no favourite authors – simply because I just read what was available to me at home and so I was introduced to authors like Susan Cooper and John Bellairs. Oh yes, I read C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books too (I can’t remember when, exactly) but somehow I wasn’t really impressed by that talking lion and children who do not have as much character as Fatty or Georgina. As for Tolkien, I only started on those when I was in secondary school, when I bought a brand new copy of the Lord of The Rings in an MPH during one of those outings I had when my parents came to visit me at boarding school. I have to say that earlier on, I did look for any of Tolkien’s books in the bookstores of my hometown but sadly I couldn’t find any copies. Anyway, I don’t want to talk about Tolkien too much because I did not really finish his books – the whole thing was too tedious for me, although (I’m ashamed to admit) I absolutely enjoyed the three movies.
Believe it or not, I started reading Sidney Sheldon when I was in Standard 6. God knows what those books did to my hormones at that age. I blame it all on my very good friend who passed me a well read copy of Windmills of The Gods during one of the holidays. And then I discovered that there was also one copy at home and there were many other Sidney Sheldon books belonging to my dad on the top shelf of that tall bookcase in what used to be our library cum praying room. That’s when I discovered other authors like Eric Van Lustbader and Robert Ludlum. I remember my wonderful late father, who never stopped me from reading those ‘forbidden’ thick books, actually recommended that I read The Icarus Agenda even when my mother would say things like “Sudah-sudah lah asyik baca buku pasal seks aje.” (Enough reading those books about sex!) Obviously, there were sexual scenes in many of those books and sometimes I do wonder why my father was so liberal about it. But one thing for sure about my father, he never stopped his children from making our own choices and his encouragement to read these books goes to show that he prefers us to discover things for ourselves and be open minded about them. That, and the fact that he probably thought it was just a good story – sex scenes aside (indeed, those were good too!) We even discussed about what happened in that book after I finished it. How truly wonderful was my father?
However, I would not be grateful to my mother if I just mention about her effect on my reading journey in that one sentence above. She was the one who encouraged me to read before my school years and even set aside a short period of time after her Maghrib prayers to teach me English from a children’s book with a character called ‘Farmer Fred’. I remember reading 1 page of the book per night and discovering new words like ‘chicken’ and ‘sheep’ and then confusing them with ‘kitchen’ and ‘ship’. What a wonderful, wonderful journey Farmer Fred and I had – I still remember Farmer Fred’s smiling face and the wonderful things he did at the village fair when he wasn’t tending to his sheep. Looking back, I think, that experience instilled in me the love that I have for books and the English language.
I remember there was a period of time when there was a draught of books in my life. Believe it or not, the only books that were available in abundance at my old school were those Mills & Boon’s books (and by abundance I mean rows and rows and rows of them in the library) and the ‘class reader’ which were books given out during our English lessons and were ‘compulsory’ for us to read. I remember consoling myself that at least I’m reading these class readers, so it’s not a complete draught. In fact, the only source of good books I had in school was my friends. It was through friends I discovered authors like George Orwell, Jane Austen, and Ken Follet and I thank the generous souls who used to pass story books around at school, without caring (or realising) that the books will definitely come back to them worse for wear and a particular friend who used to bring and recommend books to me every time she came back from the school holidays.
And so it was really at home that I got the interesting books to read and even then, I discovered that I could not just read anything and everything under the sun. And my tastes have evolved since then too. And I still feel that I’m not reading enough, for I know at least 4 people who read a lot more than I do. However, I feel at the least, I MUST try to read all the books in THIS LIST. At the moment I’m stuck with the romance genre for a while (it has been 1 year now) and I have a TBR (to be read) list in this genre as long as the hair of the medieval heroines in these books. But I know I will eventually tire of them and then, I will be staring and staring at the book shelves of book shops like 'Books etc.' and 'Borders' to find the perfect book to read. Until then, I have 3 books coming through the post (Amazon and ebay) and 2 already at home and not finished.
My literary journey continues on...