Wednesday 19 December 2018

The Book that Made a Reader of Me

Published on this day 175 years ago was Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, a book that has always held a special place in my affections – not because it's a favourite regular read of mine, but because it was the first Dickens I read, almost the first 'proper book' I read, and the book that first revealed to me what literature could do, and how deep, intense and life-enriching the experience of reading could be. It was the book that started me on the course to becoming a reader.
  I was nine years old, rising ten, and at a state primary school when I somehow came across A Christmas Carol. Instantly I was swept away by its heady mix of chilling ghost story, affecting account of poverty and suffering, and uplifting, heart-cheering tale of redemption, all with the happiest of happy endings. I read it and reread it, and looked around for more Dickens, alighting next on Oliver Twist, which, in its early chapters, had the same electrifying effect on me – as did the childhood chapters of David Copperfield (how could they not?). Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities followed in my early secondary-school years, along with Nicholas Nickleby and parts of Pickwick Papers (which I came to enjoy much more in later years). A decade or so after my discovery of A Christmas Carol, I was reading the Big Ones – Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend, Little Dorritt, Dombey and Son – what reading stamina I had in those days! But I might never have become a serious reader at all had it not been for that boyhood encounter with A Christmas Carol.


  1. Even today, I don't consider myself a 'serious reader' but my own 'first', after the 11+, was a first novel by Geoffrey Trease 'Bows Against The Barons', a reworking of the Robin Hood myth, and serving, for me anyway, as an early introduction to leftwing politics. Unlike you Nige, I was unable to 'read and re-read' as I would have liked as, a couple of weeks after turning the last page, my mother gathered-up my book, some Eagle comics and, worst of all my suitcase full of pristine Dinky Toys, and dragged me up to the bank to sell this 'job lot' to a plump man in a three-piece suit sitting behind a desk about the size of a double bed, with an inlaid leather top. I think these people were called 'Bank Managers'. From there we walked on to the Co-op, as she had heard that they were now stocking something called Yogurt. Sure enough, rows of little pots were sitting there, behind glass, in their own fridge, and ahead of us were two women pointing at them. Wild times, eh?

  2. A sad tale, Mm, and wonderfully redolent of its time. I guess this left you with a lifelong aversion to bank managers...