The bookcases in my parents’ house are probably a pretty good indication of how mine will be thirty years from now. Books double stacked as there is no longer enough room to get away with a neat, single-layered display; shelves heaving under the weight of ancient paperbacks, their faded covers and yellowed pages a testament to their long life. Some old favourites have been revisited so many times that their pages are loose and the spines creased so severely that they are no longer identifiable. These shelves are the result of a lifetime of reading; they are also the place where I began my own reading journey.
Both my parents have always read, but it was my mum whose books marked the start of my foray into “grown-up” reading. I read as a child, of course, but as I gradually grew out of children’s literature the question arose, what next? Young adult fiction is obviously a huge part of the book market today, and has spawned some of contemporary culture’s most recognisable series and franchises – The Hunger Games, The Vampire Diaries, Twilight….the list goes on. But when I was going through that awkward transition phase into adolescence, twenty-plus years ago, books specifically for teens were pretty few and far between. I have very vivid memories of trotting along to the local library where my choices were Sweet Dreams or Point Horror. (Being the delicate girl I was I opted for Sweet Dreams every time!) But once I’d tired of a series where EVERY book involved a girl changing herself to get a guy, before realising that the guy she should be with is the one who likes her for what she is, I was pretty much out of options. So the next logical step was to go to my mum’s bookcases and start working my way through her collection.
Luckily for me my mum was – and still is – a great reader of the classics. She’s the reason I fell in love with Jane Austen, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. I’m sure if they hadn’t been under my nose as a teenager I would have discovered them later in life, but I think I probably enjoyed them more then than I would if I read them for the first time now. I remember they held a certain mystique for me when I was younger, probably because it felt like opening a door to a world – and a language –completely different from my own. In fact, it wasn’t until my early twenties that I started reading contemporary novels; up until that point, reading for me meant Anthony Trollope or Wilkie Collins. Even at university I entrenched myself firmly in the medieval, Renaissance and Victorian periods, rarely venturing past the turn of the twentieth century. I remember when I first got into modern fiction I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it; now, working in the book trade where I see so many enticing new works turn up in front of me every day, going back to a classic is a rarity, an indulgence. But whenever I pick one up I love the feeling that I’m disappearing into a book that I know my mum first fell in love with maybe fifty years ago.