Happy World Book Day!

I love reading books. Going right back to my childhood, I’ve always considered reading the learned skill I’ve appreciated the most. So why exactly do I love reading so much?

Reading is there to feed the mind, while you eat food to satisfy your stomach. But when I started reading, there wasn’t any thought to feeding my mind. I just wanted to read stories. I’m happy when I’m not involved in interacting with others, and reading presents the perfect opportunity for that. As soon as I could read by myself, I started on Enid Blyton books. Blyton was incredibly prolific – over 600 books published – so there was plenty of available material. It was the mystery and adventure books I loved. Famous Five, Secret Seven, the Adventure Series, Barney Mysteries, Five Finder Outers, and a few stand alone mysteries were all enjoyed. The perceived lack of political correctness (by modern standards at least) wasn’t a consideration. The mystery and adventure was everything! Getting to know – and like – the characters, and share in adventures that weren’t in my day-to-day experience was wonderful.

Then I encountered Doctor Who. Without realising it at the time, I had encountered science fiction for the first time. I loved Doctor Who (television series) as a child, and books with a heady mix of aliens, monsters and space was an irresistible draw! A teacher asked my mum if I read, and was told yes, but its only Enid Blyton and Doctor Who. Doesn’t matter said the teacher, as long as he is reading. And so it continued.

I didn’t really go past those books until I was in my late teens and went to University. One of my course mates and I were in town, and he wanted a new book, so we went to Waterstones. He was really into fantasy fiction, and went straight to that section. He asked if I read any fantasy, and on me saying no, he suggested Spellsinger, by Alan Dean Foster. It was my first experience of fantasy fiction, and I was hooked. A tale of a singer magically transported to a fantasy world where his mentor was a magic-wielding turtle, and a streetwise otter his guide was a dazzling array of adventure. I read the six books in the series avidly. My friend then put me in the direction of Stephen Donaldson, one of my long-time favourites, then finally onto Lord of the Rings, books I still enjoy reading.

When I developed a taste for fantasy – I don’t think I can get enough of the escapism the genre provides, the magic, the intrigue, the dashing heroes – it was time to develop my own tastes. I tried not to literally judge a book by its cover – with the notable exception of Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic – and I was off. David Eddings provided an enduring favourite for me with his excellent and reasonably gentle Belgariad and Mallorean series. It still gets re-read from time to time, and is still enjoyed. Eventually, I encounted Raymond Fiest’s Magician. A tale of high fantasty with magic, elves, dwarves, heroes, villans – your typical fanstasy fare. It remains my single favourite book I’ve read.

But my favourite series was a reminder to me of what I love about reading. I first read Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series about 12 years ago when I bought Eye of the World. Its a magnificent tale of good, evil, intrigue and magic. Its depth is staggering, its characters rich (all 2200 of them) and its scope grand. There’s more than enough mystery and hidden truths in it to really get your brain active. It let me escape again but at the same time brought me in contact with other like-minded souls. The books (14 plus 1 prequel) are so detailed that they’ve given rise to countless websites, FAQs and forums to discuss the books. And also rise to a wonderfully amusing (and insightful) podcast on the books, http://www.tWoTcast.com

The Wheel of Time’s 14th and final book was published in January this year, and finishing it left an empyty feeling. Books I’d enjoyed for 12 years (or more) were over. But, the series is such an incredibly good one that it needs regular re-reads. When I’m finished with George RR Martin’s Dances with Dragons (latest book in Songs of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones to non-readers!)) it will be onto a Wheel of Time again. Who knows, I’ll maybe even blog about it as I go on.

What I’m trying to say is that I love reading. Its provided a great escape from the daily grind, and has brought me in contact with other like-minded souls. Its a great gift, and its tragic to see illiteracy is still rife around the world. But, its given me a lot of pleasure, and I’ll hopefully continue to enjoy my reading. So, Happy World Book Day to all you readers!

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