If bookworm parents make a bookworm child, then I should never have picked up a book for pleasure in my life. Neither of my parents were book readers – they read the newspapers, my mom read magazines, but they never had an interest in books. When my dad lost his sight, he started listening to audio books by Dick Francis as well as sports biographies, but I certainly didn’t grow up in a house full of books. My mom kept the one book she’d loved in childhood – Anne of Green Gables – in the wardrobe. My dad had left his childhood books – including his favourite, Play Up, Magpies! – at his parents’ house. I remember reading part of Play Up, Magpies on a visit to my nan and grandad’s and reading other books they kept in the spare bedroom as well – they were called Tales My Father Told and More Tales My Father Told, and were set in Ireland. I seem to remember a mule being in them and maybe leprachauns and a little girl called Maura.
Of far lasting memory are the books I read on visits to my maternal grandparents. They were both readers and owned a lot of books, mostly classics. It was on my visits there that I picked up and read Great Expectations, Jane Eyre and even started on Shakespeare. My nan was into murder mysteries and used to borrow Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh books from the library. In my teens, I got into these too, and used to borrow them from her – we’d both finished them easily by the time she went back to the library for the next lot. It was Nan who recommended the novels of Daphne du Maurier and introduced me to Jamaica Inn when I was 13. I still love du Maurier’s books and Jamaica Inn is one of my favourites.
The other things I remember reading at my nan and grandad’s is a bundle of books called The Sitter’s Digest, subtitled ‘Laughs in the smallest room’. These were full of, obviously, toilet-humour jokes, which appealed to me greatly – I was delighted when I discovered these one Saturday when I went round there for dinner.
I credit nan and grandad with developing my interest in goods, but all my family played their part. My mom and dad might not have been readers, but I remember Dad reading my bedtime story every night and Mom teaching me to read. For years, she bought me a book every Friday, producing it for me when I came out of school. My other nan and grandad gave me pocket money every week, which I spent on Famous Five books. They all encouraged my interest, and are responsible for the thousands of books that have taken over my house.
And now my son has hundreds of his own.