I grew up in Teesside in the 1970s; I didn’t really like being a child. I was chubby and lived a few miles from my primary school which was unusual, all the other children lived practically on the same street. This was enough to make me into a bit of a loner, certainly a bit lonely.
However one hugely positive factor about my walk home was that my mum would stop off at Egglescliffe Library almost every evening so that she, my sister and I could exchange handfuls of books. Books we’d read in 24 or 48 hours. Libraries in those days were austere, frankly everything was; still I could be sat on an itchy carpet one minute, then be riding in Enid Blyton’s wishing chair, up Heidi’s Alp or having tea with the Little Women in Massachusetts, the next. Books are great company, confidence builders and ultimately books taught me not to accept limits.
My library was a haven, my visits there the high point of my days. My confidence grew through reading and I learnt that being the same as everyone else shouldn’t be the goal. It struck me that reading helps every one of us reach a happy ending day after day, after day. Books offer entertainment, education, escapism, inspiration. What could be more important than having those tools at your fingertips?
Reading journeys ought to be wide and varied. There’s no such thing as a good book or a bad book to read. A number of people are discouraged from reading because they are made to feel there books are entry level, "just holiday reading", not "worthy". All reading should be encouraged. I hate literary snobbery; it’s myopic. Do yourself and someone else a favour today by gifting a book that they will enjoy, really think about what might suit them, the way you’d think about what food to prepare for a dinner party.
So, like many, my initial faltering baby steps on my reading journey began with Enid Blyton but later I leapt to To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. A childhood classic. I loved it because it is told from a child’s point of view. I read it when I was about 13, not a child, not a woman. An ideal age to appreciate the gentle humour and irony of Scott’s unselfconscious observations focused on adult hypocrisy. Then I read Emma by Jane Austen and I’ve re-read it and all of Austen’s novels dozens of times since I was a little girl; her novels never fail to amuse me.
I became that kid who always had her nose in a book; when I was eating, crossing a road, going to the loo. It was actually dangerous. Lucky me, to have found such an endless, accessible passion. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh was quite a moment for me. A junction in my journey I suppose, as it was one of the books that convinced me I wanted to read English at University. Of course I did, I couldn’t imagine anything more wonderful than three years where reading was not seen as an indulgence to be fitted around homework but recognised for what it is, essential. Waugh was such a sophisticate that he managed to avoid moralising but brutally exposed the comic and ridiculous in human frailty. His shrewd and astringent (sometimes savage) humour is magnificently entertaining and a real influence on me.
Other books that have been essential on my reading journey include Once in a House on Fire by Andrea Ashworth, a compelling memoir that blends social history (the 1970s are rendered with an acute eye for detail) with poetic intensity. When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman. Spanning four decades, from 1968 onwards, it’s a story about childhood and growing up equal parts laugh-out-loud/heartbreaking, which is irresistible, exactly what I want from my literature. This is one of the titles that can be given away this World Book Night. I envy those who will read it for the first time. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever come across; a wonderful and intelligent read, brimming with mystery and murky secrets. The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is astonishing! Where do I start when trying to describe this plot? Basically the hero time travels due to a genetic disorder. Sounds ludicrous but when you read it, you believe it. I cared so much that his love is doomed. I loved the tense psychological drama, Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller which deftly explores taboo passions. One of my all-time favourite historical novels is The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, it’s a wonderful orgy of ambition, lust, intrigue, politics and passion. I’m forever recommending people read Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris. This literary thriller, set in a boys’ public school, is a vivid, dark and compulsive page turner. The biggest buzz for me was that there is a triumphant twist - and I didn’t see it coming, I always see it coming! I cannot recommend this gem enough.
Stop, I must stop! This is just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on all day. You know you could too; there are so many gems out there. Books that have made you laugh, cry, despair and think. Go and tell someone about them today but not someone in the industry, we already know that books are the best thing ever, tell someone who hasn’t yet been let in on the secret.
I believe every single adult and child has the right to learn to read and write, and to be taught with understanding and patience. Life without literacy skills is extremely difficult. Things that most people take for granted – reading an instruction manual, a newspaper, a bus timetable or the menu in a restaurant - can be crippling for some. That doesn't seem fair or reasonable to me. Undoubtedly, reading leaves you richer and wiser. It brings great enjoyment and relaxation - an escape from the stress and strains of daily life. It brings great power and confidence. We all should have this right and we can all share this gift.
Adele Parks’ latest novel, Spare Brides, is out now published by Headline in paperback and ebook.
World Book Night 2015 will once again be celebrated on 23 April, UNESCO International Day of the Book and the anniversary of the birth and death of William Shakespeare. 12,500 copies of 20 specially printed World Book Night titles, totalling 250,000 books, will be given by a network of volunteer reading enthusiasts and institutions focusing on reaching the 35% of the population who don’t read for pleasure.
The World Book Night 2015 flagship London event featuring authors Lynda La Plante, David Almond, Sarah Winman, Elizabeth Fremantle, Irvine Welsh and Annabel Pitcher is at the Shaw Theatre, 100-110 Euston Road, London NW1 2AJ on Thursday April 23 2015 at 7.30pm Tickets: £20. For bookings visit http://bit.ly/1ECl94t or call 0844 844 0444
We've got a whole set of the World Book Night titles to giveaway. Click here to enter.