Again, reading

I’ve only just realised that I didn’t actually hit, you know, ‘publish’ when I wrote this. I’m clearly a computer genius. This is a post I wrote about the Saturday of the National Young Writers’ Festival.

The first session I attended on Saturday was called ‘When You Were Young’ and featured a number of Young Adult (YA) writers talking about books they read as children, and how those books influenced their writing. Philip Gwynne, Margo Lanagan, James Phelan and Christine Hinwood made up the panel, with Bethany Jones facilitating.

Reading. It’s important to read. Read fiction. I left this session wanting again to get lost in a book, like I did as a child, to find another world. Childhood reading is something entirely different to reading as an adult. It’s less analytical, less cynical. No less thoughtful though, I think. Childhood reading is all about imagination, about questions and wonderment. I think that adult writing can be like that too. At least I want to think it can be like that. Perhaps that’s what I was nostalgic for when I watched that man reading a book on the train platform.

Discussion moved (probably inevitably) to the occasional tendency for young adult and children’s fiction towards being overly didactic. I actually think adult fiction can be like that too, and I find it incredibly irritating. I try (the operative word here) to remember when I’m writing that readers will expect to do some work themselves, and to be able to make their own decisions about whether a character or situation is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Children are capable of that too, and I sometimes wonder if people forget that.

The best books for me as a child were those that just presented a situation and the ideas that came along with that; presented multiple views on an event or person, and let me think about it myself. Possibly there were subtle pushes towards a particular conclusion, but they were just that: subtle. I loved stories that captured my imagination, and if they inadvertently taught me something about the world then great. It was interesting (though not surprising) to hear the writers on this panel say that, when they write, the story itself is what they think about, not its potential to teach someone something. Margo Lanagan in particular was quite passionate about the idea that children are capable of complicated thought and a story that encourages questions simply because it has presented an interesting (or disturbingly intriguing, as the case is with much of Lanagan’s writing) situation is not a bad thing.

James Phelan mentioned that reading to children when they are very young is important. Big tick for my parents. I remember Dad reading me The Hobbit as a five-year-old. I’m fairly certain that would not have been the starting point! My youngest brother is seven years younger than I am, so I got to see more of his coming to reading. ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’ and ‘Whose Legs Are These?’ were two favourites that I was able to revisit in reading to him.

My all-time favourite childhood book though was ‘The BFG’. I felt an affinity with the main character. No, I was not an orphan girl who was taken away by a friendly giant. But I was a seven-year-old girl with glasses named Sophie when I first read it (I haven’t changed my name, no, but I am a fair bit older than that now, and have invested in contact lenses). My year two teacher let me read parts of ‘The BFG’ out loud to the class.

I really must find an old copy of that book again.

What did everyone else read as a child?

2 thoughts on “Again, reading

  1. Hey Avocado and Lemon,

    Just found your blog via Falcon vs. Monkey. Thanks for sharing your sum up of this panel. I only saw a couple of the NYWF panels, so it’s nice to read about something I didn’t get to go to.

    BFG’s a great book, though I think Matilda was my favourite. I remember reading it in one sitting when I was in Grade Three, and feeling proud of myself for having read such a fat book.


  2. ‘Matilda’ was my favourite of the Roald Dahl canon; The Chronicles of Narnia, since my uncle would read them to me before bed; and I LOVED ‘Little Women.’ My great-aunt also gave me a strange old book (80+ years old) called ‘Peep in the World’, and my art-loving mother gave me the excellent ‘Katie’s Picture Show’ one Christmas. Great post!

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