I’ve been listening to the audiobook by Neil Gaiman, The View from the Cheap seats, and it has made me thing about my own introduction to the world of reading.
I grew up in a small country town in Australia, we didn’t have much money, and my only real avenue to books was my school library, and a mobile library (basically a mini library in a semi truck trailer) that visited once a week.
I remember being an avid reader, particularly of science fiction and fantasy, and utilised the resources of both libraries as best I could.
The first real book that I can remember sticking in my mind is the classic The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien. I was in primary school at the time. It was almost an accident how I came about this book.
When I was about 12 years old in primary school the school was purchasing new books for the library, and they were allowing our class to choose some of the books they would buy. I had no firm views on what my choice would be, but a friend did, he had chosen one book, but had also spied a copy of The Hobbit, which the library did not already have (it was a small school), and having already used his one choice of book, persuaded me to choose The Hobbit to add to the library.
I had not heard of the book before, but it had a dragon on the cover, and promised to be a tale of epic fantasy so when it was added to the collection in the library, I was one of the first to check it out.
I fell in love with this tale of Hobbits and Dwarves, and their quest against the dragon. My teacher saw me reading the Hobbit and offered to lend me their own personal copy of The Lord of the Rings, and commented on the fact that they would be impressed if I made my way all the way through it the first time, a sentiment echoed by the headmaster.
It took me a number of months, but I did it, I made it through all three books.
It was my first proper literary experience, something that stuck in my mind. I had been a reader all my life, but even decades on, this experience of these books still lingers like nothing else prior.
For many years I would re-read these books, even when I became an adult, only really stopping sometimes after the excellent Peter Jackson trilogy of The Lord of the Rings came out.
I don’t know for sure why I stopped, but maybe it was because something that had only really truly existed in my imagination was now a film, and it changed my perspective on the books a little, when I read the books I saw the actors as the characters in my mind.
But regardless, Tolkien was the first author to make an impression on me, there have been other since, Raymond E Feist, Robin Hobb and Terry Pratchett to name but a few, but Tolkien was my first memorable experience as a reader of books.
It still sticks with me, even to this day.