Wednesday, 23 March 2016

A trip down (bookish) memory lane

This post was originally conceived as a wander through a few choice books from the span of my reading career, linking each one to tangible objects that have been spun up with them over the years to form the web that is my literary life.  A kind of bookish show-and-tell, if you like.  When I started thinking about it, however, I realised that most of my favourite and most memorable reads have been tied to places and experiences, not things - and certainly not things I still have around me now.

Reading On the Island by Tracey Gravis Graves, for example, immediately conjures up memories of reading it on a sunlounger in Fuerteventura during my first holiday in years, when my agoraphobia had been beaten into submission juuuuust far enough for me to get on a plane and go sit by the pool in a pretty resort for a week, alternating between reading my books and staring happily at the ocean.  Which is a wonderful memory, but hard to actually show you now, four years and many miles away!

How about the books from my schooldays?  For some reason everything we read at secondary school was quite clearly going to make everyone cry (frickin' sadists) so I got really good at sneaking my class copies into my rucksack at the end of the lesson, rather than depositing them back in the box as it went round.  I'd take them home and devour them right to the end, so that when the next English lesson rolled around I'd know exactly the right points to drift off and think happy thoughts so I didn't end up sobbing into my shirt like the rest of the students.  :)
Then there's my old favourite Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs by Jeremy Mercer, which is tied up with so many events in my life that I wrote an entire blog post about it.  I bought and read it at university, so its bohemian vibe is inextricably linked with the bookish good cheer of student life in York.  After I read it I discovered pictures, videos and documentaries to draw me further into the world of Shakespeare and Company.  Then came books about its history, films in which it makes an appearance, volumes written by literary greats who became linked to the bookstore over the years...  It helped shape my bookshop and my own approach as a bookseller, and that led to appearances in Jen's books - which also featured Shakespeare and Company, who invited her to speak there and stay at the bookshop herself.  FULL CIRCLE, BABY.  One big sparkly cloud of inspiration and books and wine and generosity and everything good.

Finally, I thought about The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a lifelong favourite of mine.  I had already read and loved it as a very little girl, so one Christmas my parents bought me the audiobook version on tape.  It was read by a single narrator, but it had little musical interludes and she did all the voices, from the strict Mrs Medlock to the broad Yorkshire accent of young Martha and Dickon. 

I will always link that listening experience to my 'Nature Club', a youthful endeavour to raise money for Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital down in Aylesbury.  I watched their children's TV show, read their books and subscribed to their newsletters, and being a keen little nature lover and wildlife watcher I wanted to raise money to help the animals there. 

To do that I started a Nature Club for my primary school friends (I was only about 9 or 10 at the time), making little things to sell and producing a club magazine every few months.  I'd carefully write and draw each page, with puzzles, letters, pictures, wildlife information, recipes and all sorts of other things, then Mum would sneak the pages into work and photocopy them all for me. 

Back home, I'd carefully assemble and staple my batch of magazines, get out my bumper tub of felt tips, then put my Secret Garden tape into the old cassette player on the living room floor and lie next to it for hours, colouring in each individual magazine and making it pretty.  Sometimes I could listen to the whole book two or three times over before all the magazines were finished.  The next day I'd take them to school and sell them to my friends.  We didn't exactly make a fortune (a 9 year-old's disposable income being on the meagre side and all), but we managed to sponsor a pair of baby bunnies (Poseidon and Neptune), and I got myself featured in the Tiggy's magazine and found pen friends in two sisters whose mum worked in their offices, so I was more than happy!

All these years later my family still supports Tiggywinkles, and a couple of years ago we even surprised my grandmother with a trip there for her 80th birthday.  When I was little there was nothing but a small shop open to the public; now there's a beautiful landscaped area to walk round, lots of gardens and animal enclosures for the residents that can never be released back into the wild, a museum, nursery, Red Kite centre, plus refreshments and the gift shop - it's a really lovely place to go for an hour or two and enjoy the sunshine and the wildlife.  My grandmother literally didn't twig what was going on until we turned into their driveway, and she was so happy that she burst into tears as soon as we walked through the door.  The staff all wished her a happy birthday and treated her like visiting royalty; it was just the loveliest day.

Soooo, there we have it.  A few books from my reading life and the memories and feelings that sit quietly on the bookshelf right alongside them - as opposed to the physical objects and souvenirs that have long since dropped away.  There's a life lesson in there somewhere...