Who are you reading?
Paul Farley - 27 November 2006
Who was I reading?
I've been thinking about this since starting this residency. I don't remember a great deal of poetry from school, or before. There were the usual chants and rhymes, and - slightly bizzare this - sea shanties, which we'd sometimes sing during morning assembly. And Browning's 'Home Thoughts from Abroad' sticks in my mind, though I can't place how I came to be reading it. I remember Robert Louis Stevenson though. Does anybody still read his poems? 'Faster than fairies, faster than witches'. Another Victorian book - not poetry - was 'The Water Babies' by Charles Kingsley. That made a big impression, I have the most vivid sense of reading that book. And a book called 'Her Benny', which many Liverpudlian schoolkids will have read. Another Victorian. It was either Victorians, or the contemporary (60s and 70s) working-class kid's story, like 'A Pair of Jesus Boots' by Sylvia Sherry I think. I liked that. Once I got a library card, I went to town, but was omnivorous and would read all kinds of things fairly indiscriminately: there was a book called 'Twentieth-Century Discovery: the Planets' by Isaac Asimov which I loved (this is at a time when the popular science genre wasn't really as well stocked or visible as it is today).
Such a hotchpotch, really. But I was utterly, utterly fascinated by many of the books I read as a kid, and can still remember great swathes from them now. I suppose my point - such as it is - is that a kind of devotion to books, or a devotion I should say to reading books for pleasure and because they were mysterious and in some difficult-to-define way important to me, has stood me in good stead, I think. Not sure if the sea shanties will ever come in handy, though.
Do you have books like that? Books you keep going back to? Books you think are going to go the distance with you, even though they might seem largely unimportant or trivial to others?