A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Reading was my first love. In the interim between my fifth birthday and the day I discovered alcohol and boys (discoveries that, as I remember it, both occurred on the same thrilling day) I was a bona fide bookworm. I was the sort of child who jumped feet first into a book, much like those chirpy souls leaping into that street painting in Mary Poppins. Reading wasn’t just a cerebral activity: on opening a novel I experienced the sort of adrenaline rush and stomach butterflies that others might reserve for bungee jumping. I was a greedy reader and I gobbled books with an insatiable appetite. I read at meals, during home haircuts and I even read as I walked to school, occasionally walloping straight into unforeseen lampposts. I read on holidays, I read sitting on uncomfortable black rocks whilst my brothers fished for mackerel, I read on the back of my dad’s bike as he peddled up and down dale. I read first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and when I slept I dreamed about my books. Twice-weekly trips to the library were more exciting than any shopping trip for clothes or toys could ever be. I read the Famous Five books in consecutive order and then backwards. I read the library’s selection of classics in a haze of elation, and found that I couldn’t get enough of Austen, Eliot, the Brontës and Hardy. Around this time my family started to notice that my vocabulary had expanded to include several irritating phrases including ‘pray tell’ and ‘I do not cough for my own amusement.’ Then I read all the American teen books I’d ever received for birthdays and felt sure I would never fit in at Sweet Valley High. Finally I discovered The Lord of the Rings, which filled a lonely summer that stretched between ages twelve and thirteen with such excitement and heightened emotion that I have never quite recovered from it. I was inconsolable on the day I finished the appendices at the back of The Return of the King. I felt bereaved, because I had not just lost a book, I had lost a world. So I read it again. Reading took me away from rainy Sunday afternoons when there was only cricket or snooker on the telly and showed me exotic lands and offered hot glimpses into earth-shattering love affairs. Reading was quite simply the best thing ever. And then when I hit fourteen, I stopped.
Suddenly I could spend weeks listening to one music album on repeat whilst staring at a poster of Kurt Cobain. I started painting my toenails black, dying my hair purple and fantasising about various rock concerts I couldn’t afford to attend. I skipped school and to my amazement I got served alcohol in bars. I drank cider by the litre and puked it up behind bus stops. I didn’t even look at a novel for months on end. I think even at the time I knew I had lost something. It wasn’t the loss of innocence that niggled me, it was the loss of my reading. But I was so busy trying to be a grown-up that I ignored what books could offer me.
At university I did an English degree but reading just wasn’t quite the same. I had lost my reading mojo, and where books had once been the be-all and end-all, they had become mere objects to help pass a few bored minutes in the bath or at the beach, and the classic texts that I had once loved with a passion were obstacles that needed to be surmounted in order to get a good grade. Reading was quite pleasant in its way, but I’d have rather been at the campus bar.
Writing my own novels initially took reading away from being a simple pleasure and morphed it into a complex activity ranging between market research, competitor appraisal, awe, ecstasy, and misery that I couldn’t write anything as wonderful as the offerings of my favourite authors.
I sometimes wonder if other people have lost the urgency and all-consumingness of their early reading passion, or if they still feel the same excitement for a book at age fifty as they did at age ten. Personally, I doubt that I’ll ever reascend to the giddiest heights of my early reading love, but the summit is, at least, in sight and a certain book blog with a funny Latin name is responsible. For the past eighteen months Vulpes Libris has filled my evenings with book after book, and the next time someone asks me why on earth I spend so much time reviewing novels without even getting paid for my efforts, I’ll probably blather about helping fellow authors get review coverage or the wonders of free books, but I’ll secretly be thinking that through book blogging I’m rediscovering my reading mojo, and to me that’s payment enough.
*Calling all bookworms, past and present, (of course including my fabulous fellow book bloggers: Kirsty? Lizzy? John? Stewart? Simon? Lynne?)* Have you experienced marked changes in reading excitement? Did adolescence remove some of the wonder of reading? Or are you still reading with the same passion as ever? I’d be fascinated to hear if anyone else has experienced peaks and troughs in their reading life. Thoughts welcome, as always, below.