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The Pleasure of Reading

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 21st May 2015

"The tales and myths and legends did, I am now more sure than ever I was, exactly what Coleridge said they did. They made it clear there was another world, beside the world of having to be a child in a house, an inner world and a vast outer world with large implications - good and evil, angels and demons, fate and love and terror and beauty - and the comfort of the inevitable ending, not only the happy ending against odds, but the tragic one too." - A.S. Byatt

the pleasure of readingEver wondered about the stories that inspired your favourite author to become a writer themselves? Want to know the books that turned them into a reader as well as the ones that continue to do so?

The Pleasure of Reading is a delightful and revealing collection, edited by Antonia Fraser and featuring over forty acclaimed writers from all corners of the globe and in a period spanning seventy six years, all of whom are bound by their shared passion for reading, including Margaret Atwood, Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Gray, Alan Hollinghurst, Doris Lessing, Roger McGough and patrons of The Reader Organisation A.S. Byatt and Jeanette Winterson.

First published in 1992 in hardback only, this new edition includes essays from five younger writers, including Orange Prize shortlisted author Kamila Shamsie:

"It started with a bear, and a boy in search of his shadow. Winnie-the-Pooh and Peter Pan were the twin companions of my earliest memories (an animal and a child – this has a certain symmetry; in my un-reading life, the primary companions of those days were an Alsatian called Dusty, and my sister). Of the two, it was Peter who lodged himself most deeply in my heart, making me dream of adventurers who would dart in through the open window at night and fly me away to Neverland. In the world of J. M. Barrie parents are understandably wary of Peter and his home ‘second to the right and straight on to morning’ but in my world it was my mother who pointed out to me that Neverland was just off the coast of Karachi, located on a series of small islets, known as Oyster Rocks by the unknowing; that two of the islets looked like granite sentinels made her claim seem all the more plausible. So although Peter might fly into rooms in London he ended up just off the coast on which I lived; a comforting thought.


In the Karachi of my childhood, where we had one state-run television channel and a sheltered life which rarely extended beyond the school yard and private homes, I walked through that wardrobe, flew to Neverland with the boy and his shadow. And in doing so I learnt that novels reach further than their own writers’ imagination. Who do you write for? I am often asked, the question framed in terms of nation or ethnicity. My own childhood reading makes me impatient of such questions. C. S. Lewis is unlikely to have ‘written for’ a girl in Karachi, but that doesn’t mean any boy in London grew up with a greater claim on Aslan than I did. There were things I didn’t understand, of course – What was Turkish delight to begin with? Why did all the children drink tea, which was clearly a boring beverage for grown-ups? – but I was happy to read around what I didn’t understand, some- times accepting other rules of living, other times inventing my own explanations. Finding ways of contending with the mystification was as much a part of the joy of reading as was entering fictional worlds and changing their rules (I refer you back to girls and the darning of socks). It is a great gift to a writer, this early knowledge that there will always be people who don’t know the world you’re writing about, will miss allegories and allusions, and yet will love your books."

Royalties from the book will go to Give A Book, who seek to get books into the places where they will be of most benefit. Give A Book work in conjunction with Age UK and Maggie's Centres as well as other literacy projects, and have supported several of our shared reading groups in London with the donation of new book sets - much to the enjoyment of our readers.

For more information about The Pleasure of Reading, see Bloomsbury Books website.

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