I don't pretend to be a very good reader, or a widely-read person. Because I'm not, and it would be rather pretentious of me to say otherwise.
I was never taught how to read. People never read to me. I learned how to read because I loved stories, and if books held stories then I was going to learn how to decipher them, come what may. One of the hardest things, for me, about learning another language is that I don't remember learning how to read English. My sole occupation was entertaining myself; I grew up in a daycare and I was always preferred my own company, even back then. When I was four Harry Potter was just becoming really popular, and many adults decided that the best way to keep a four year old entertained is to read them Harry Potter; I thought so, too.
I didn't know how to write until much later; I didn't actually connect writing and reading, mostly because books aren't written by hand and I always thought it was much easier to talk to people then to try and write what you wanted to say. It was only when I realized that once one is no longer a cute little kid it's hard to hold someone's attention that my writing developed properly. When I was five I wrote backwards, Leonardo da Vinci style - most people were shocked because I did it automatically, whereas it would take someone else actual effort to write like that; and also because they thought that I was slightly kooky. When I was five I was a chatterbox, and had no time and patience to bother with legible writing. By the time I was six I had changed from 'kid who may possibly have learning disability' to 'child who sits at the back of the class doing year three comprehension exercises' - and then ' pupil enrolled in remedial English classes' because we had a very deluded, racist ESL teacher. I still don't like writing by hand; whenever I think of 'writing' it's always 'typing' - because, you know...I'm a true modern child...
Flash forward to year eight, when I gatecrashed a year nine English class and had the His Dark Materials trilogy by Pullman dumped on my desk by my rather disgruntled English teacher. I've never read those books; I never intend to. Pushed by a very urgent need to catch up with my new peers and a distinct dislike for much of the reading material presented to me in that year, I learned the art of bluffing. It worked rather well at that level. In year ten I deliberately chose courses that didn't have really heavy reading material. I don't think that disadvantaged me at all.
In year eleven I started seriously studying literature and I finally had the love of proper decent literature instilled into me. I felt like every book I read and every poem I studied made my writing, both for school and for pleasure, better, more complex, more sophisticated.
I always read for pleasure. I go against most people I know when I say that I see no point in reading something if you don't like it. The torture of pushing yourself through a book you hate is not worth those fleeting moments when you can boast that you've read some classic that everyone's claimed they've read but nobody actually has read it. Nobody seemed to agree with me on this until my English teacher confided that he'd never been able to crack into Lord of the Rings. Neither have I, but at least I don't feel like an idiot about it anymore.
I am, however, very picky about my books. I'm very hesitant to read new books, mostly because I love the intrinsic joy of snuggling down with a well-loved volume with a hot cup of tea. I'm also iffy about books that seem so damn complicated you give yourself a migraine just trying to figure out what the hell is going on; I love well written, well-constructed, sophisticated books, but I always think that the mark of a good writer shows in easy-to-read prose and characters that are engaging and easy to relate to. A good book isn't an opportunity to flaunt the most complicated, far fetched storylines expressed with the most absurd characters and the longest, obscurest words one can think of. A good book should be honestly, simply and subtly...seductive.
It is not always easy to indulge my passion for literature, for art and music and other cultured things, amongst my peers. Some simply don't care, and are more interested in more teenage pursuits, whilst others are self-confessed snobs, dearest friends of mine who are nonetheless all too eager to have the opportunity to be delightfully condescending. It is hard for someone like me, with such unorthodox tastes, to establish myself as an intellectual equal; we all are accustomed to being the most learned of our peers and despite several years together it is still difficult to acknowledge others as being of the same elite pedigree. Although I must admit now I have thrown aside some of my insecurities and love discussing what I love best - the arts - because I don't care if people don't agree with me; that's hardly the point of academic discussion. I know now how to defend what I think.
Soon we'll be studying Eva Luna in year twelve literature, and we've all been warned to read it - or pretend to - beforehand. I've been putting it off for ages, because it's not normally the sort of thing I normally read. But today, the day before school starts, I picked it up...and read it from cover to cover.
Eva Luna is an intriguing book. It's not the best or most enjoyable book I've ever read, and had it not been for school I probably would not have attempted to read it, or endeavoured to read the whole thing. But it was a page turner, nonetheless. The characters are intriguing; beautifully flawed and unique in their perspectives and relationships. But then, that might be Eva Luna's greatest flaw; I simply felt that it was a showcase of beautifully crafted characters at the expense of an engaging plot or message.
I've always thought that reading translations is a little bit of a pity. I feel like so much is lost in translation. I didn't realize this until I read Shakespeare in translation; when I was younger I was frustrated because I didn't have the capacity or tutoring to understand Shakespeare I read not quite a simplified version, but a rather sophisticated translation into modern academic English. Even then, and especially now that I have established myself as someone familiar with Shakespeare, there are so many nuances that are badly translated or omitted entirely - through no fault of the translator, it's just that one language will always have these little idiosyncrasies that no other tongue will even begin to understand. I can't help but feel that Eva Luna would have been a much better book had I been able to read it in Spanish.
One person I've become fascinated with recently is Catherine the Great - I am an ardent admirer of Elizabeth I but Catherine seems to have been so much more...progressive. She was in so many aspects a male ruler, and demanded to be treated as such - but she was still a most passionate, feminine character and I admire that she managed to balance the masculinity of autocratic rule and the femininity of her fascinating personal life so very well. Elizabeth, I think, never quite managed that. I am most eager to get my hands on Catherine's memoirs - although they are written in French, the lingua franca of Europe and the language of the Russian court at the time - and I shall have to settle with a translation. For now.