Friday, July 24, 2009


Assistance is sought from the gentle reader (and all the others, whoever you may be) on a project I dreamed up twenty minutes ago that has already become a full-length book in my head.

I would love it if people would leave in the comments box an account of their earliest memory of reading. Not of being read to, but of reading themselves: of seeing the letters on the page (or whatever; in my case it was a shoebox) and recognising sounds or words. Do you remember the moment that you realised you could read?

Post anonymously, or not, or whatever you prefer. If you'd like to be identified and given attribution (see how confident I am, in the first flush of inspiration, that this will become a book in the fullness of time?), you can email me, including your own email address for verification, at pavlovdotcatatgmaildotcom.

My own earliest memory of reading is of standing in my parents' bedroom with my back braced against their high bed, in my raspberry-coloured velvet dress with the ecru lace collar, so we must have been going out somewhere very flash indeed, possibly the Minlaton Show, while my mother did up my shoes. The wardrobe door was open and the shoeboxes were stacked up high in there on a shelf. 'MIMI', one of them said on the side.

'Mmmeeemmmeee', I said.

'What?' said my mum. 'What did you say? What is it?' But I couldn't explain it. MIMI. It wasn't a word. It was the same thing twice. It had nothing to do with shoes. It was a mystifying, symmetrical, seductive set of signs that meant sounds. My mum often read to us -- but out of books, not off the sides of shoeboxes in wardrobes. I had no idea that "reading" was the name of what I was doing.

What's yours?


Anonymous said...

My earliest realisation was in kinder - sounding out the letters on the glue jar C L A G and being so mystified everyone called it glue - afterwards I never referred to it as either glue or clag. I certainly couldn't call it glue when it was patently clag, and I was obviously surrounded by others who couldnt read. Even the teachers I thought.
Decades later when the memory returned I marvelled at my lack of concept of a brand and pondered why I never asked why it was spelt or sounded out clag, but everyone said it as glue.

Penthe said...

Hurrah, the very thing I always wanted to both read and talk about. Even though I never knew. Write your book, I shall buy it and give it to everyone as Christmas presents.

1. Reading back to a visitor grown-up who was supposed to be reading to me 'Aunt Annie's Alligator - A - A - A' in Dr Seuss's ABC. After however many times of having it read to me, I finally understood that those symbols equalled both the sounds and the meaning. And that I got really, really fabulous attention from adults when I did it. I guess I was four or five.

2. First-ever reading to myself for an extended period of time like a grown up - a biography of the Wright Brothers from the Scholastic Books catalogue at school. It was only anger and resentment at my mother and brother for not playing with me because they were reading that made me do it. And then I got it. I got why they wanted to read. Aged about six.

Can't wait to read everyone else's. Hurry.

Tony.T said...

HZN 081

It was the number plate on dad's car.

Emalie said...

I can't quite find my first definite reading memory, but i recognise exactly the kind of intense private illumination you are describing.

My mother showed me a calender (possibly to explain that I had to wait) and she said that it was July now, and that it had also been July when a particular event occurred. I can't remember the event she mentioned, but it was something i remembered distinctly and at the same time felt entirely separate from, as though it had occured in an unrelated novel. The incredible mental leap came in my realising that there would be another July and another, and that i would be different at each one (no sense of mortality, obviously!). I wanted to see all the Julys and i flipped through the calender over and over hoping that this July would become that, wanting to control it. So it was an intoxicatingly powerful feeling, but not quite my first experience of reading text...

Will keep thinking.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

These are just fabulous. Do keep 'em coming, please!

Bri said...

My earliest memory of reading is from when I was 3 years old. I was sitting in the kitchen of our farm house with my maternal grandfather. We were going through an alphabet book he had just given me (so not one I could have had memorised) and I was telling him all the letters and what the corresponding pictures were. He was being silly and saying the wrong things, like A is a for Monkey. I was telling him all the correct answers! When we got to V, I primly told him that "V is for Vicuna, Pop!". Now living in rural Australia, I am pretty sure I had never seen (or heard of) a vicuna before so the only way I would have known what the animal in the picture was, was by reading the accompanying word. I also distinctly remember Pop saying to my mother "What the hell is a bloody Vicuna anyway?" in true Aussie bloke fashion : )

karinaL said...

I can't remember the first thing I read but I can remember the enormous fuss that was made when I could read the word 'detergent' in kindergarten - I was aged 4 or 5. I was immediately taken to see the principal who happened to be teaching a second-grade class at that moment, and I was made to read aloud in front of the class from what I think was a teaching manual. It was the first time anyone had ever indicated to me that reading was not just something you did but something special.

Jennifer said...

That is a wonderful idea. But I can't remember that flash of inspiration.I really wish I could.

I remember watching my younger brother turning the pages in a book, while watching everyone else around us. He couldn't read yet, but he could tell that reading was something really really fun. But he didn't quite understand why we all liked it so much. So he just kept sitting with a book, turning the pages, waiting for it to happen to him.

mimbles said...

I cannot for the life of me come up with any clear memory of reading prior to The Hobbit when I was in 2nd grade. Obviously I was reading before then, quite voraciously by all accounts, and I know intellectually that I'd read certain books (many, many books in fact) before I read the Hobbit, I just don't remember the experience. Or where I do remember reading books I know I had read earlier, it's subsequent re-reads that recall.

I certainly don't remember learning to read even though I wasn't a particularly early reader. Mum tells me she had decided not to actively teach me before I went to school but I gather I picked it up pretty darn quickly once I started school. There are books I have loved reading to my kids because they were favourites from my childhood but which my mother had never read, apparently because once I could read I preferred to read to myself.

I have very few clear memories of early childhood in general though so it doesn't really surprise me that this is the case.

iODyne said...

I cannot recall the first time I read, possibly John and Betty at school;
but FWIW I was carrying a friends 18 months old child along the street, a child who could not speak, and it suddenly went rigid and pointed excitedly at the fence by the railway crossing ...

an advertisement for McDonalds.
brand recognition before speech.

I suppose the soul of Marshall McLuhan registered a tiny blip out there in the Soulosphere.

(I think I had some of those shoes in the style 'Mimi')

Anonymous said...

At an early age, I was identified by my father as TEH BOY GENIUS (I was not alone in this: sister #1 was identified as TEH GIRL GENIUS CONCERT PIANIST before she could reach the pedals). He reasoned it was his mission to teach me-a preschooler-everything he did not himself fully understand but felt that he should. Like differential calculus, quantum mechanics, quadratic programming and Sathyananda yoga. He failed.

Dad was not entirely blind to reality. He acknowledged that I did not emerge fully-formed from my mother's womb. Hence I was to learn to read from The Adventures of Pinocchio - the unabridged version. A mite challenging for a 4 year-old.

I did my best. Then I contrived to 'lose' Pinocchio from my bed's headboard; apparantly I had prior success at outwitting my parents (or so I thought). But not on this occasion. To my surprise-and I recall my dissatisfaction at the turn of events-my mother retrieved Pinocchio from under the bed. The torment continued.

So my recollections of learning to read are lost in a mess of wood shavings, noses, Italian exotica, puppeteers and dust bunnies. But when I started school Nip and Fluff and Dick and Dora were a doddle, and I remained an avidly nerdy reader for many years.


Helen said...

Isn't it funny, I have no memory at all of the first time I read something - and I'm the tragic print addict who has to read every poster in the train if I've forgotten my reading matter!

I can tell you that daughter was about to start school when she pointed to an Exit sign in the supermarket carpark and yelled "EXIT!!"

Jen at Semantically driven said...

My first memory of reading my own words was those cardboard sentence stands in grade 1. We had words and had to make sentences out of them. They were orange I think.

I also remember reading out loud at a school concert in grade 2 - I must have been a good reader to have been chosen I'm guessing.

Books I remember reading as a kid - Milly Molly Mandy, The Famous Five (in fact any Enid Blyton book) are the main memories.

Anonymous said...

It’s 1956, I’m 4 years old, my brother and sister are at school, my grandpa is asleep in his chair by the fire, his brown and gnarled hands still holding his walking stick – how I remember those beautiful hands. My mother has been teaching me the basics of reading and writing, and I’m responding well. I see the pencil in my hand and the shapes forming on the page. I can hear my voice sounding letters – b being my favourite as it is the first letter of my surname. I look up, I see the blue and white painted wooden cupboards above the kitchen bench where I am sitting. That’s where the memory ends, with my mother’s smiling eyes beside me.

Anonymous said...

Like Helen, I can't remember my first successful attempt at reading but I do remember writing at a time when I did not know how to read. I wrote a few things on the back of my wardrobe door and drew some four legged chickens. These words had definite meanings attached and I knew what they meant for a long time, but later, a few years after I started school, I could not make any sense of them at all, almost as if they were some protolanguage that had been completely overwritten by the official one. I also remember learning to type The Quick Brown Fox etc on my father's typewriter and being able to read what I had typed - sometime before I started school.

Unknown said...

Q: Do you remember the moment that you realised you could read?

N: Not in so many words, no. The earliest reading-related memory I have is when I was 5 years old in kindergarten, when the teacher wrote a lower-case 'b' on the board and then 'at' and sounded out the word b-a-t, and then demonstrated how putting the long stroke on the other side of the circle made it a 'd' and warned us not to get them mixed up.

So I guess that's good anecdotal evidence that phonics was being explictly taught in at least one government primary school in the 1980s!

But no, I don't recall an epiphany that "hey! wow! I can read!" or any kind of grand defining moment that divides my biographic memory into 'before-reading' and 'after-reading' epochs.

I went on to read novels like the Lord of the Rings when I was 8 and Stephen Donaldson fantasy novels when I was 10. As a child, I think I mostly did gist reading, and skimmed over a great deal of the writing which contained concepts and situations that I didn't at that age comprehend. So all I got was an impressionistic idea of the plot, rather than a detailed understanding. When I went back as an adult and re-read them, I remember being surprised at many of the plot twists and details, and also how bad a lot of the prose is!

Anonymous said...

i remember the flash cards that my mum and dad used to teach me to read when i was three - four. the usual simple words, mother, father, in, out, etc. i remember that i knew the words one day with mum, but i was not playing ball as it were. then i made the conection between telling mum what the word was and getting a smartie. well that was it and i read every word in that pack, i think that i got a little ill.

parents tried the same trick with my younger sister, but the times being as they were they used carob, not chocolate, did not work quite as well.

I'm extremely grateful for my parents going to that effort as i ended going to 13 different primary schools. If i hadn't known how to read at the beginning, things would have been a lot different.

Mind you i also remember when i worked out how to pretend that i couldn't read. an extremely frusrating and doomed project with embarassing consequences.

i never learnt how to spell or any grammer.


fang said...

Can't remember the first instance of 'getting it', but do remember at seven being absorbed in my first novel (one of the Famous Fives I think), and the moment of perfect realisation that there was enough reading material in the world to keep this feeling going for the rest of my life. It still excites me.

Anonymous said...

Like Jen, my first earliest reading memories are those sentence boards and Enid Blyton: more specifically, "Mr Galliano's Circus".

I have a memory of sitting on the scratchy brown couch in the living room and reading that book from start to finish, by myself. And it wasn't reciting from memory, it was reading the actual letters and words and sentences, and they were coherent.

And Mum said that meant I was big enough to start reading as many books as I liked, whenever I liked. (Presumably because she didn't have to find the time to read them for me anymore!) So I read "The Enchanted Wood" and a Milly Molly Mandy book (the one in which her parents fix her up the tiny jam closet in apple green paint and soft furnishings, as her very own bedroom) right away.

Anonymous said...

PS I do remember the little girl in "Mr Galliano's Circus" had a "spangled" dress, and I had no idea what that meant, even if I could read it. But thought it sounded pretty glam.

Mindy said...

I was in kindergarten (5yo) and I can't remember what I was supposed to be doing, but I suspect I wasn't doing it. I looked up at the big board book with the spiral binding that was sitting on an easel with a picture of a large yellow sun on it. I then read the letters s-u-n underneath and realised that it meant sun like in the picture. I was so excited that I ran to tell the teacher that that word was sun. She was unimpressed having told us that same thing that morning. I don't think she realised that I had finally made the connection in my own head.

Mister X said...

I get nostalgic for the day of sitting on a warm footpath in our little street reading a comic. I can't remember ever reading before. Soon afterwards as my home life slowly destroyed itself I found out that reading was a place to go, a wonderful thing.

Sir Henry Casingbroke said...

Street signs aged 4.

Unknown said...

I don't recall a first moment but it would have been at a relatively 'late' age as I started school at five and a half and couldn't read before that, but I could read fluently by the end of kindergarten. I can easily go back into the first books I read by myself, which were picture books we had at home - I read them over and over again, still own many of them and have read them to my own child. The delightful sensation of complete immersion in each book is one I can still conjure up. I had a book called 'April's Kittens', about a girl called April who lived in an apartment in NYC who was allowed, against her father's wishes, to get a cat, which then had kittens - and the story is about finding homes for all the kittens. I can remember being intrigued by April being an only child and living in an apartment - something I only knew existed from television and books. This would have been the early 60s.

phil said...

Can't remember the first time but, now that you've asked such a sensible question, I do remember an embarrassing episode in year 3 afterI'd just arrived at a new school. We were reading out loud and during my turn I came to the word 'tomato' and pronounced it tom-a-toe. To much hilarity.

Anonymous said...

First error in class, "John and Betty" Grade 1 reader (?) Tried to read ahead one page, found a new character, Ian, read his name as LAN because the single vertical stroke looked more like l than I. Apparently not aware of upper case letters.

First newspaper poster: dramatic "WAR!" at outbreak of Suez war of 1956, aged 6 and a half.

Can't remember first reading. Do remember fondly my own book: written and illustrated in pencil and bound for me (all by my grandpa); and wish I still had it. A beautiful token of love, and magical because he wrote a book in front of my eyes.

At the age of 50 I looked at a set of colourful children's blocks that we played with when I was 4, and for a few seconds was back in the play room.

I too remember "Clag" and the label and its lettering and its smell, and the sticky messes we made; but it wasn't my first recognised word.

1950's primary school: classes of 45 or 40 pupils and yet places of wonder.

HANNAH'S DAD said...

Not first reading, but first enjoyment of reading:

I was little, and I was sitting in my sandpit and I was bored. Gradually it dawned on me that indoors there was a big picture book of Bambi and I didn't have to sit there being bored - I could go and read it by myself.

This set the pattern for my later life, and I have spent relatively little time in sandpits since then.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Thanks so much to everyone for these wonderful stories. I see some patterns emerging, too. I hope there will be more.

lauredhel said...

I don't remember learning to sound out or read, which I think could be just because I have very, very few memories from my toddler years at all. I do remember being around 5 or 6 and being deeply buried in an Alice in Wonderland, with a red cover. I remember running out of books and being teased mercilessly by my brothers for reading dictionaries and encyclopedias, again around 6ish. I couldn't figure out what was supposed to be bad about it. They kept bringing it up for years, when ribbing me about being a "bookworm".

skepticlawyer said...

By definition, dyslexics struggle with reading, and I was no exception. After being tortured with the latest in 'look-say' for two years, the fact that I was unable to read, write or spell my own name became clear to the school, and I repeated year 2.

Second time around, I had a bossy, Italian background teacher who realised that I 'read' stories by memorising what she read to us. She then took it upon herself to teach me how to read.

This involved a year of painful interaction with each letter in the alphabet, and the sounds that each letter made. It took a long time, perhaps more than a year. I later learned that this system was called 'phonics'.

It only really made sense when I read a story about Helen Keller. It was called 'Helen Keller's teacher', and may even have been by the teacher, whose name I do not recall.

The teacher described how Helen Keller soon learned how to 'copy' the various patterns for different words onto her hand, but that -- try as she might -- the teacher was unable to make a link between the word patterns so copied and any physical object that Helen Keller touched.

It was only when she thrust her charge's hand underneath a water pump and inscribed the pattern for W-A-T-E-R on Helen's hand that any connection was made, that Helen realised that this wonderful cold stuff pouring over her hand was W-A-T-E-R and that those letters meant what she was feeling.

And that is the first thing I remember reading. I did not read children's books, on account of no longer being a child once I learnt to read.

The next thing I read after 'Helen Keller's Teacher' was 'Lord of the Flies.' Flummoxed doesn't even begin to describe the reaction of my teachers.

tigtog said...

I know that I started reading early, because my parents told me that they just realised one day that I was reading by myself, and this was, I think, before preschool. I certainly remember reading Laura Ingalls' Little House on the Prairie to myself during preschool.

I also remember in Year 3, myself and a couple of other kids were sent to do a Speed Reading workshop (I expect it was a way to get us out of class for a day so that we didn't look so bored). When tested, I was already over the target speed for the workshop, so I just spent the day reading without any pressure - bliss!

My son, aged 2 1/2, parked outside a bank in the main street. He had been pointing at words in picture books and telling me what they were for a while, but I wasn't sure how much was memorising and what was actual reading. Then he looked at the sign and sounded out "Com - on - we - alth" and I knew he could read.

Hyperlexia is a common though not conclusive diagnostic sign for high-functioning autistic spectrum disorders, BTW. Fits our family to a T.

tigtog said...

I certainly remember reading Laura Ingalls' Little House on the Prairie to myself during preschool.

Actually, no. I meant to write "kindergarten" instead of "preschool" there.

Peter said...

Son, aged 3.5, looking at posters in the bus - "What's a head-atch, mummy?"

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Oh, bless.

Toni said...

What a terrific topic. Like some earlier posters, I don't remember the moment I could read but still struggle with pronunciation because I was always curled up alone with a book and never heard the words spoken in my non-reading family. One of my earliest problems was thinking 'immediately'(as spoken) and Im'me'date'eli were two separate words. And I was well into my thirties before a kind friend told me the French writer was not Albert Ca'moose.

Nabakov said...

Interesting idea. You could call the book "I Can Read Now."

Some more data points for you.

I remember around being four and putting together words from flash cards like "cat". In fact I think that was my first word, probably because a live prop was close at hand.

Both my parents were professional writers/media people with a strong sense of humour so the flash cards were used with much aplomb and entertaining digressions.

(In retrospect it was bit like some toddler today being handed an oversized tennis racket by an ambitious parent.)

I also remember the thrill as key elements of grammar and syntax first started clicking together for me while reading Ladybird books and Playhour and Robin. Suddenly I could predict how a sentence was going to finish...but it is a skill with which I am still grappling with which.

Sadly though I don't recall reading this Ladybird book.

And word verification for this comment has suggested another title for this potential project: "flitmet" Subtitle: Or how I first met words.

JahTeh said...

This took me in the wayback machine to a dark and stormy night when my parents and I got out of the train and had to wait at the taxi booth (that shows how way back it was). I remember the fluorescent sign flashing TAXI and it connected in my mind with the sound but when I tried to print it when I got home, no luck. I think I would have been about 4 years old.
We were money poor so I remember every book I was given when I did start to read.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

My plan is that the book will be a collection of essays (now one of the most popular forms; no publisher would touch such a thing with a barge pole fifteen or even ten years ago but ALL HAS CHANGED), of which only one will be on this topic. My working title is 'She's Only Reading', from the days of childhood rage when one or other parent would call out 'Where's Pav, is she busy? Doing anything important? Doing her homework/chores/piano practice?' and one or other sister would peer at me for a minute and then call back 'No, she's only reading.'

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Sorry JahTeh, that was an answer to Nabs -- comments crossed. Yours is part of a pattern I'm noticing in CLAG, MIMI, EXIT and TAXI, not to mention Com-mon-welth and Head-atch -- a Eureka moment out of nowhere, not in a formal reading-learning situation but rather when something in the environment randomly clicks -- and often something that isn't a recognisable word from the kid's speaking vocabulary.

cristy said...

I don't remember first learning to read. I was about 3, I think, but it didn't thrill me at all. I used to love being read to. My mother's partner took to reading me The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper when I was 6 and one night I just had to know what happened next. That night I realised the incredible freedom that came from reading for myself. I could keep reading for as long as I wanted (or, at least, as long as my eyes would stay open) and I didn't have to wait for anyone else. The power was intoxicating and I never looked back. It still gives me a thrill.

Lily started recognising some words at around 16-18 months - mama, please, Lily - but isn't always consistent. At the moment any written word on a small rectangular sign is 'the name of today' (as on Playschool). I think she sees some words as symbols, but still hasn't understood the whole concept yet...

TimT said...

I remember being taught to read in Grade 1 - I remember it as a simple process of being taught the letters and the words, but there must have been much more to it than that. I had always loved reciting the alphabet, and numbers (one through to ten, or sometimes ten through to one - 'countdown!' - at home), so maybe there was a parental hand in it.

I also remember borrowing my first book from the school library - a picture-book/folk story that involved monkeys. (Can't remember the details, sorry - I did read it several times afterwards, and indeed even now I'm not sure whether I've grown out of it.)

Reading seems so natural to me now that it's hard to remember a moment of 'change', when I realised I could read, and that I had acquired a skill. But how I remember it happening, and how it actually happened, may be two very different things.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Clarification -- I meant to say 'a collection of essays about reading'.

Nabakov said...

"My plan is that the book will be a collection of essays"

All by you? And is there an overarching theme, sensibility or vibe yet? Eg: how are you pitching it? To publishers or just to yourself at this stage as it coalesces.

I'm guessing it will be an overall mediation on the acts of reading and writing for pleasure and profit in the 21st century, presented through a bunch of essays that encourage rather than point out their connections with eachother.

In which case I can see you knocking out an essay called something like "Threadtending", discussing the etiquette, ethics, Spencer's laws of form etc and the general spoken and unspoken principles guiding interactions within real time typed conversations. Observed by one who was there.

If my suggestions resonate, I'd buy it. Hell, I'd buy it anyway.

The English language is an infinitely supple, everchanging and always surprising beast that's ridden by more and more yet effectively harnessed by not enough.

I'm all for any attempt to explore the changing mores of the best communal technology humans have ever come up with: language.

And I have no doubt you'd ride a good horse here.
You could call the collection "In The Word Was The Beginning." Or "Get Back On Again."

I also have some big ideas for the merchandising.

These are all thoughts that I think, as this comment's word verification puts it, you should "concid".

I certainly there will

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

All by me, yes. All My Own Work. I've done enough anthologising to last me and everybody else a good long while, I think. Casually and non-explicitly interconnected, as you say (in fact you have quite a take there on what I have in mind; I'd say 'surprisingly accurate', if I were surprised), and indeed there will be at least one essay involving blogging and reading, provisionally entitled 'Blog, Ha Ha' in reference to the Luddites who snigger at the very mention of the word, not having yet caught on that it is supposed to be funny.

Re title -- 'She's Only Reading', or maybe just 'Only Reading' which is more ambiguous and mysterious, is the overall working title. Thus far.

Re the merchandising, I will have my people call your people.

Linda Radfem said...

I think I must have been able to read before I went to school (at age 4) because all the labels in the classroom, piano, books etc, were pretty clear to me. My class were also experimenting with a reading program called "sentence-makers" which consisted of an orange folder containing rows in which you could arrange small word cards, like tiny flash cards, and I understood all of those. I remember reading the word "inquisitive" for a second grade boy who had come in to help the kindies. I can also remember my father's shock when I read a sign that said "continental delicatessen" around that same time. I wasn't familiar with the words; I can clearly recall seeing them up on the side of the local Tom's Supermarket and sounding them out.

My own daughter whom I began teaching phonics and whole words to from about 12 mths, was recognising words and paying close attention to any written language from about age 2.

Ariane said...

I'm another one in the category of "doesn't remember eureka moment", but my mother was told not to teach me read before I went to school, so I only knew sight words when I started kindergarten. She had fobbed me off for some time telling me that I would learn to read when I went to school. I came home after the first day and announced I wasn't going back because they hadn't yet taught me to read.

The other memory I have is sitting at my desk in Kindergarten with a laminated red card with my name written on it, and wondering why on earth I would need that to spell my name.

H said...

Thanks Nabakov, the perplexed policeman book was a hoot.

flexnib said...

I am not sure how old I was, but one of my most vivid memories from my childhood is of the day I realised I could read. It was definitely before I started school. I was sitting in front of some newspaper. Possibly it had been used to wrap nasi lemak (I grew up in Malaysia; fish and chips was a rarity). I had looked at the funnies and then moved on to look at the TV guide - suddenly I realised I was reading "News (Tamil)". I still remember the feeling of excitement. I went back and read the funnies :)

I do know it was before school because I also remember my first day of school - and being able to read the posters on the classroom wall!

Anonymous said...

I don't remember the first reading moment but I remember a first writing moment, in the first day of second grade in South Australia. (Our family had been in the US, I had attended a year of 'elementary school', and this was taken for first grade). The afternoon of that day the teacher wrote some words on the board, including 'grandma', that we had to copy, and I have that tagged in my head as the first time I had to make words on paper. Can rememeber episodes o scribbling (on walls, clothing, etc.) before that.

Nabakov said...

Aha! Now I see where you're going here PC. (Our comments crossed earlier.)

And I can see you making an excellent fist of it too.

(Although I think "Blog, Ha, Ha" is a pretty crap title. Unless you're using the concept of "Ha Ha"s, a sweeping prospect with hidden pitfalls, as a sweeping concept for discussing what lurks in within the endless blog greensward. Yes "blog" is an intrinsically funny word. So why belabour the point in an essay title? Go elliptical. "Blogged Out", "Trapped In A Blog? Try Reverse".)

Now I think about it "She's Only Reading" does pack an awful lot of highly questionable assumptions into only three ironic words. I reckon you should go with that title. Especially if some of your personal experiences will inform or energise some of the essays.

The final result could be, as this comment's word verification puts it, quite "zensap".

Nabakov said...

Bugger! I forgot to add this link to my last comment.

(I read all those books too. Though I rapidly traded in Arthur Ransome for WE Johns, Henry Treece and TH White - who wrote the most unusual kids and a dog stumble on a mystery book yet. "The Master". The Master could only talk to peple while squiffy on whiskey, his main sidekick was a cashiered RAF squadron leader wearing a bowler, his address book was signed by Charles Darwin and a yappy little Jack Russell accidentally saves the world.

Like "A High Wind In Jamaica" meets the Famous Five abandoned by John Wyndham on Rockall.

Is there nothing TH White could write that didn't set bits of us alight? His "Age Of Scandal" had people on commuter trams moving away from me because I was laughing so loud.)

OK, Spufford (what a perfect name for his subject matter) may not be strictly germane for what yer on about now.

On the other hand, good writing about good writing should never be strictly germane. Otherwise it's not writing just issuing instructions.

It's "patedness" basically -according to this comment's word verification.

This old world is a new world said...

Lovely, lovely topic.

I asked my mother, and she couldn't remember the moment of first reading, but *could* remember her first own book and being amazed it could be so long, and all one story. It was The Fourth Form Gang, by Ethel Waters, and to celebrate your blog I read the first few chapters yesterday, as she still has the book.

I asked my son (14), and though I tried to prompt him with my own memory of a photograph of him pouring over a cloth picture book, turning the pages before he could walk, he says he remembers making music with his other grandmother before he remembers reading. He still makes music.

I don't remember my moment of first reading, but I do remember the first time a book spoke to me. It was The Very Little Girl (apple-green cover), by Phyllis Krasilovsky (I had to look that up), and it was about a small girl growing tall enough to open the door, etc. It was both very ordinary (it was obvious she was just small and growing) and extraordinary, because she was the heroic subject of a book. And I think as she mastered the turning of a door handle, I was mastering the reading of a book.

stray said...

I don't remember the eureka moment - some time in Ms. Russell's 1st grade, the last hurrah of Dick & Jane. I do remember the q-u combination rocking my world, though.

PuellaLibraria said...

What a great prompt! My most vivid early memories of reading and writing are of my fury when adults didn't believe I could. (Grade 1 teacher who smiled and nodded when I tried to quote LOTR, etc.)

May I raise a related question? I recently drafted a dissertation chapter on an episode where a bishop miraculously teaches a mute young man to speak, essentially by teaching him to write. This and your post have reminded me of something I did as a toddler: We had a visitor, who obviously didn't know how our family worked and was trying to check my skills with the alphabet. She started on A, explaining it all to me and trying to come up with a really hard, long word: apple. I promptly replied, "Oh, like atmosphere." So, the question(s) I'd like to raise are to do with the intersection or interaction between the written and spoken modes of a single language. "Atmosphere" doesn't prove that I already knew how to read, just that I recognized that particular phonetic principle, but I suspect we would all call that recognition a vital stage in the process of learning to read, even though we can perfectly well learn to read in other languages without ever learning to pronounce any of the words properly. It seems that so much of the magic of learning to read lies in the moments when we were astounded to recognize words we had *heard* in the sometimes rather strange combinations of letters we *saw* on a page or wherever.

PuellaLibraria said...

Hmmm, sorry, I see that I have forgotten to ask a question after all that. I was just curious how you would deal with the relationship between reading or writing and speaking or vocalizing.

Anonymous said...

I can't remember when I started reading, but I do remember going to my first day of school and being made to stand in disgrace outside the classroom by Sister Marilyn because, without knowing what I was doing, I read out some of the words written on the blackboard. My family now thinks that my slightly older brother must have taught me to read when he learned, and nobody knew it had happened - not my parents, not even me! And then I got into trouble for it!! What kind of teacher does this to a five-year-old on their FIRST day of school?? But it didn't dampen my life-long passion for reading.

elsewhere said...

I can't actually remember a specific moment, tho there was a jump that happened around kindergarten when I went from being able to read flashcards to reading Enid Blyton (The Enchanted Wood, et al) rather than my grandmother reading it to me. I do remember being bored by the flashcards and wondering why 'stopping' was meant to be a hard word. When I was six, I started reading the Narnia chronicles by myself, so I was well on the way to becoming a reader by then.

via collins said...

Can't testify to it, but I would say the science information contained in the Weet-bix packets was a massive incentive to read better!

Anonymous said...

I clearly remember my pride and satisfaction when, at age four, I read for the first time the words that appeared at the conclusion of so many television programs and films: TH-E, E-N-D. Oh! The End! Of course!

The Paradoxical Cat said...

I don't remember any particular incident or word, but I do remember my joy the first time I read an entire novel text all on my own. I was at school, so thrilled to be there, and I'm pretty sure it was a Janet and John book. I do remember a time before school when I could not yet write and being very frustrated by that. I used to imitate writing along the lines of an exercise book, pretending that I was writing, and reading out the 'story' I wanted to tell.

dogpossum said...

In my first clear memory of reading to myself - or for myself - I was sitting on a woven mat on the floor in the first year of school at an International School in Suva, Fiji. I was about 4? I remember I had to read from an older grade's book because I could read before I went to school.

But this has me thinking about my brother and how he didn't really ever learn to read until after he'd dropped out of high school in year 9.
I remember him working with a special tutor in our lounge room and the man quietly telling him he was doing really well as they got through a whole sentence. I think my brother was about 15. That memory seems far more important to me than my first reading - it was a mighty victory for my brother.

I shouldn't tell that story - it's his story - but I remember it quite clearly, and I remember how important it was. How _really_ important. And how proud I felt.

This old world is a new world said...

Of all these amazing stories, dogpossum's is the one that makes me cry: the thought that a person might nearly miss out (as of course, many do) on the pleasures and the utility of reading. What a mystery and a puzzle reading must seem to someone who comes to it late. There's a real sense in this story of someone being rescued. Wonderful.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

I don’t ever remember not being able to read. It’s as if I sprung fully reading out of the womb. And I imagine I was reading in there too. I do remember my father telling me that during the depression when he was humping his bluey around looking for work that he’d be so desperate to read that he would read everything on the label of a soup tin. I also remember being out working in the bush when I was older and only having 3 or 4 pages of an old out of date newspaper and reading every single line in it, twice, death notices, adverts, anything.

I remember when I was perhaps eight or younger or older, getting 3 large cardboard boxes given to me from a friends older sister. I’m guessing she was sixteen. The boxes were full of those small comic books of Secret Seven, Famous Five and such. I just sat down and proceeded to read my way through them. Full time if I could have. I still look for hidden tunnels to the beach and doors behind library shelves.

I remember as a young kid always getting into trouble for reading all the time when I went to other people’s places.

When I was still a kid I remember a young bloke, a bodgie/rocker, who looked a bit like James Dean, who was the son of my fathers mate, gave me a big box of American comics. Superman, Archie and Jughead, Veronica and the rest. I loved the ads with big American houses, with bikes and wood paneling and gadgets. I always wanted some Sea Monkeys. I remember when after the son died in a car accident, speeding and playing chicken the papers said, his dad cried when he said I could have all of the rest of the boxes of comics in the shearing shed.

Dad would always read to us bushranger stories, Banjo and Henry poems, and The Loaded Dog and he’d sing Old Shep and make us cry. My mother’s name was Mary my father was Dan. He’d sing to her “She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,/ Yet 'twas not her beauty alone that won me./ Oh no, 'twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning /That made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.” She’d sing But come ye back when summer's in the meadow / Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow /'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow / Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.”

I read Treasure Island when I was young. I remember sitting around at home in front of an open fire, by the light of a Tilley lamp, we had no electricity, all the family reading. Every now and then someone would just blurt out and read a passage from whatever they were reading.

That’s how I remember it. But I have no idea how much is literal photographic truth with witnesses who would stand up in court and how much of its is cobbled together through sentimental nostalgia (the real Irish disease) and loose memories seeping into adjacent synapses to be a collage of the lasting warmth of my childhood.

I’ve still “always got my nose stuck in a book”

Anonymous said...

I have to add to an earlier comment, PC, that 'Mimi' is also the first (and only) word my three-year-old daughter can read ... but it's her name, so I guess it's not quite the same thing. I'm not even sure it can be classified as genuine reading, but it sure gets her excited!

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

'I remember as a young kid always getting into trouble for reading all the time when I went to other people’s places.'

Oh, snap. And I can remember thinking 'You'd think they'd be grateful I was being quiet and good and staying out of the way and they knew where I was.'

Thank you for the fab Irish memories. 'Danny Boy' is one of the first songs I can remember hearing my mother sing, and it was the first song I ever learned the chords for to accompany myself on the guitar. I wrote an essay a few years ago about singing in a choir, but I've never been able to use it for readings, because whenever I get to the bit that quotes lyrics I get teary and can't go on:

'In many of the songs that I listened to and learned at my mother's knee, a solo voice carried the verse forward along the line of a single melody as far as the refrain, and then the sound would suddenly open out into harmony, sideways, like a fan. In those songs, the first words of the refrain inevitably got right down to the core of what the song was about, and forever afterwards I have equated the onset of harmonies with arrival at the heart of the matter. "But come ye back when summer's in the meadow." "Oh island in the sun, willed to me by my father's hand." "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine." "Vaya con dios, my darling."'

tigtog said...

FXH: I remember as a young kid always getting into trouble for reading all the time when I went to other people’s places.
I’ve still “always got my nose stuck in a book”

PC: Oh, snap. And I can remember thinking 'You'd think they'd be grateful I was being quiet and good and staying out of the way and they knew where I was.'

Oh yes, to both. Although sometimes being quiet and good and staying out of the way means that they have no idea where you are. Once, when I was about 9 or 10, I was reading in the sunroom and heard my mother call. The book was at a point of crucial narrative exposition, and I thought "oh, she'll come and find me - I'll just keep reading for a bit longer".

Well, she didn't come and find me because she didn't think of looking in the sunroom, and she actually extended the search up and down the street and enlisted neighbours in looking for me. I didn't hear those calls because they were further away. I just thought, if so elevated a word can be applied to my cognitive processes regarding what was occurring outside of the book, that she hadn't really needed to see me after all.

An hour or so later I wandered out to make myself a glass of cordial and she came back and found me standing nonchalantly in the kitchen. Oh, what wacky hijinks ensued!

Anonymous said...

Getting in trouble for reading often extends into adulthood. Many friends have told me how their husbands complain about them reading "too much". I used to read while breastfeeding and you would have thought I was beating the baby from the reaction of my partner. He brought it up again when the little'un was diagnosed with a disability. Intellectually I know it's crap, emotionally I cannot now open a book without feeling guilty.

cristy said...

"I used to read while breastfeeding and you would have thought I was beating the baby from the reaction of my partner. He brought it up again when the little'un was diagnosed with a disability. Intellectually I know it's crap, emotionally I cannot now open a book without feeling guilty."

Oh that's just awful. I can't believe that he could even attempt to lay the blame on you for that.

I read blogs on my iPod while I breastfeed. My daughter will often go and get it for me if she wants to feed, so clearly it doesn't bother her. She uses it as a time to tune out anyway.

Mister X said...

"If I loved you
Words wouldn't come in an easy way"

I had a lot of trouble with drunks when I was growing up, one of them kicked a book out of my hands. "It's rude to read when someone's talking to you." That's what he said. How's that; even swine have etiquette, you'd be surprised.

From the lion's mouth said...

"Hyperlexia is a common though not conclusive diagnostic sign for high-functioning autistic spectrum disorders, BTW. Fits our family to a T."

Oh, me too!
Some of us are diagnosed, some are not, but we're all hyperlexic. By grade five I had read every single book in the school library.

I don't remember not being able to read, but I do remember reading the Narnia books aged five and having to keep reading them with my bedside light on under the doona after my bedtime because they were so exciting.

Anonymous said...

Be careful not to confuse hyperlexia with early reading. My nephew has hyperlexia as part of a general asperger's disposition, and while this condition did involve very early letter recognition and combination (and much wearying parental boasting), his comprehension of what he was reading was, and remains, fairly limited, and indeed mechanical compared to other less dazzling readers of his own age. He consumes text voraciously, but, poor kid, it's compulsive rather than freely chosen, and comforting in the narrowest sense of providing something predictable, rather than pleasure-giving. To the people describing themselves as hyperlexic, does this describe your relationship to reading?

Francis Xavier Holden said...

pav - theres at least a couple of great books written on the origins and meaning of Danny Boy - one by Frank McCourts brother.

mister x - I've had at least one fight about reading. When I was in my early 20's I lived in a very small caravan (about as big as a small single bedroom) with two older alcoholics travelling around victoria working on some specific projects and drinking a dozen large bottles of Vic Bitter between us most nights. I'd be reading up on the back bunk and get abused throughout the night.

One night the older drunk accused me of reading all the print off the Sun and they grabbed it off me. So we had a punch up in the caravan. I prevailed, being younger and with some boxing training behind me, and after a few minutes got the paper back, all torn up. No trouble after that with reading.

Ya gotta fight fer yer right to parteee! (or read quietly)

Meredith said...

I remember reading a learning-to-read book, but being concerned because it was so repetitive I couldn't tell if I was cheating/remembering or not.

Like Toni I also had problems with pronunciation. And I also remember being baffled by the word extraordinary in Roald Dahl's Matilda. I read it as extra ordinary, as in particularly ordinary, but the context was all wrong.

tigtog said...

Anonymous @ July 28, 2:01pm,

It's not accurate that no hyperlexics gain pleasure from reading, although it saddens me that this is your nephew's experience. Hyperlexia + Asperger's is quite a different beast to Hyperlexia + HFA or Hyperlexia + PDD-NOS.

I was a compulsive bookworm as a child. Sometimes I gained pleasure from it, if the book was good, but I NEEDED to be reading, and often read rubbish just to be comforted by the text. As I grew older I became more discriminating, but it took me ages to grasp a lot of literary subtlety because I just Wanted To Read, and I finally realised that there was so much good reading around that I could nearly always ensure that I had good books close to hand.

Now I'm happiest spending most of my day in front of a computer. Reading and writing. Sure, some of it's code, but that's all semantics and symbology as well.

Nimmersatt said...

I have a scattering of memories of different stages in my learning to read process, first and second hand.

I remember sitting on the floor with my mother, behind the dining room table. Mum had bought a grey, plastic sheet that had squares with all the letters, lower and upper case, and a set of cardboard squares with pictures on them. I particularly remember c is for cat. We were sounding them out together /k/ is for cat, /d/ is for... (dog, presumably), and matching the cards to their corresponding letters on the plastic sheet.

I think this was before my sister was born - at least I don't remember her being around, so it's likely that I was three or under. Which of course means that the fact that I was an early reader is perhaps not the act of genius that I was subsequently led to believe by all the praise I got for my cleverness!

On the other hand, I do have a record, not a memory, but a record, of my earlyish reading, that does show that I was working a lot out for myself without being told. Aged six or seven, I recorded myself reading aloud from what I presume to have been the children's bible I had found at my Grandmother's house. Not something my atheist parents had read to me, just the biggest, thickest book I could find for my purposes. Listening to this as an adult, I can see that I read reasonably fluently, but I stumbled over the word 'illness', pronouncing it 'aisle-ness', before correcting myself when I inferred its meaning from the context. I went on to say, at the end of the recording 'I'm very bored at school, I don't know why'. You could almost hear the melodramatic sigh that probably followed! What had happened was, I had been, without my knowledge, selected to skip a year at school, but first to go through a variety of tests/checks to see if I would cope. I fell at the final hurdle: the teacher offered me an optional, extra assignment, and I refused. Kept with my peers by my own idleness! When another girl skipped the year and I did not, I was madly envious, hence, I presume, making this recording for my parents, to convince them that I should in fact skip the year.

Around the same time as making that recording, I remember learning to read silently. I used to always read aloud, and one day my mother asked me to read 'in my head'. THAT was a revelation! I just kept subvocalising the words, of course, but the process naturally got faster and faster from there on! And some time around then, too, my mother started reading me 'Five on a Treasure Island'. Then, just when I was getting hooked on the story, she stopped, telling me that if I wanted to find out what happened, I would have to read it to myself.

That was my first independently read, full-length novel, and I didn't look back. Our teacher had us colour in a square for every book that we read the following year (grade 2), with a green square for a picture book and a gold square for a novel. I coloured in something like 218 squares, most of them gold, in that school year alone. Talk about fabulous adult attention!!!!

What all this reveals to me, however, is how instrumental my mother was in my learning to read process - and that's without mentioning all the countless hours she spent reading to me. Of course back then, I liked to take the credit for myself - but I think I should give her a call and thank her, don't you?

nimmersatt said...

I know a bit about people (siblings) being rescued, too.

After I entered my read all the time phase it drove my little sister mad. She once took the book from my hands and smashed it down on my head, because I was ignoring her.

A few years after that, her grade one teacher told my mother that it wasn't a problem she couldn't read - she knew which way the book was held, and in which direction to turn the pages! My mother pointed out that she had known that at three.

Her grade two teacher, the same one that had me colouring in all the gold squares, told my mother that my sister could read, she was just comparing her to me. She apparently tested her for the first time at the end of the school year, and then told my mother that she was right, my sister couldn't read.

Three years of school under her belt, my sister entered grade three. Her teacher got ill and she had two different relief teachers. My mum found her a private tutor (whom she hated visiting and physically fought to avoid). The tutor said that 30% of people need to be explicitly taught to read. My sister hadn't been, in three and a half years of formal schooling. The tutor taught her. Her reading gradually caught up to her advanced verbal intelligence. She now has two degrees.

There are other, similar stories from the same primary school. I imagine that not all of them have happy endings.

Hannah Kent said...

I remember sitting on the carpet with the rest of my reception class, as the teacher pointed to the giant letters of a 'big book' on an easel and everyone read it with her out loud.

I remember quickly reading the words in my head every time she turned a page, then chanting along with the rest of the class. It was very frustrating having to wait so long for the next page to be turned.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

What I remember is learning the words of the Animals Peek-a-Boo pop-up book by heart, and reciting them as I turned the pages. This wasn't reading, though I thought it was, and I proudly "read" my book to everyone for days. Somehow, but I don't remember how, this became reading.

Your essay sounds beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I don't remember an A Ha! moment with reading, I do remember learning to write my name. My brother taught me at the kitchen table, he was insistent and I was determined. I think I was about 3.

I remember being bored and frustrated with reading lessons, flash cards at school, boxes of readers that were too easy. It was Flemington in 1983. There were 31 kids in the class, and many of them were learning English as a second language, my prep teacher was a new grad. I survived, mostly because I figured out that between the kids who were really struggling, and the kids who were playing up, no one minded if I sat quietly reading. I spent pretty much all of my school years ignoring my surroundings in favour of reading to myself or staring out the window. Occasionally I got into trouble for it (for not knowing where we were up to when we were taking turns reading from a novel for eg.) but generally I didn't.

I always had my head in a book at home too, but no one objected there. My memories of reading at home are all positive. Both of my parents are keen readers, and my Mum remembers reading encyclopedias and dictionaries when she'd run out of fiction. I remember my Nan giving me my Dad's Famous Five books when I was 6 or 7 and reading them. I read a lot of other Enid Blyton too, a few of them were also gifts from Nan, which is funny on reflection because I don't remember her reading much so it was more about her recognising my love of reading than promoting her own passion. My Pop (her husband) always had a novel on the go at the kitchen table.

My son (2.5) may have read something the other day. He noticed sky writing and announced that they were writing his name, Dan. They were actually writing "Ban". I'm not sure if he was reading, and almost right, or whether it is merely an example of self-obsessed toddler assuming every word is his name. He has been figuring out for a while that there is a code to crack, and he gets quite frustrated that he "Can't Read!" (cue flop to the floor).

Incidentally, I also read a lot of blogs while breastfeeding. The kid is fine, my neck and shoulders have been the casualties.

Elisabeth said...

Camberwell library, the old one on Canterbury Road, which is now a child care centre, or was when I last looked. I was maybe five, maybe six. Not advanced, but with five older siblings, I wanted to impress.
Chapter books. Were they called chapter books then?
I chose 'Ann of Green Gables'.
My siblings were impressed. How clever she is. But I did not let on. I could read but the words did not reach me, not then.
I've been stuck trying to impress with words ever since.

meli said...

I don't remember the moment I learnt to read. But I do remember the moment I learnt to read without speaking the words. I was amazed - and so proud of myself, and remember trying to show Mum what I was doing (and being frustrated that it wasn't a very spectacular performance!).

As someone who struggles with stammering, the realisation that words can be free from the body, faster than your tongue and silently fluent, has stayed with me and coloured my relationship/obsession with language ever since.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Wow, way to smash the comments numbers records. These stories are wonderful. Keep 'em coming, folks, I don't think we're quite finished yet.

This old world is a new world said...

No, and you haven't even started on fiction yet. First that comes to mind, which I know you will have thought of, is an example of not reading: A.S. Byatt's Frederica's son (Babel Tower), Leo (?), whom she assumes is a clever reader like all her family, but who is just remembering. And how devastated Frederica is. And how so many of these stories are tied up with family relations and family dynamics.

This old world is a new world said...

Oh, and a story a friend told me, about two small cousins, in envy of their older sisters' abilities, discovered sitting quietly in a room trying to teach each other how to read...

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Oh, bless. (Regarding the cousins, I mean.)

Yes, the Leo story has been on my mind frequently ever since I first read that novel, probably because it supports my own ferocious opinions about phonics and whole language. The other bit of Byatt behind all this is that most lovely passage near the end of Possession where Roland has temporarily gone home to the basement flat to feed the landlady's cats and starts writing poems out of nowhere -- there is a most beautiful meditation in there somewhere on the pleasures of reading.

WV: readshli. Rly.

PuellaLibraria said...

Oh! I've got books and reading on the brain now, and I've just remembered something I did when I must have been just starting to read or just on the cusp of it. We were at Hill Top Farm when I was very small, and I grabbed Peter Rabbit or one of the other books and went straight for a window seat, from which I proceeded to read aloud to the entire shopful of customers. The way my father tells it, I was doing it mostly from memory and embellishing the story pretty lavishly as I went along, using the pictures (and at least some of the words, I think) as prompts.

Red Horse said...

My son started school this year and sometime between February and now he has started reading. In February he knew the alphabet but couldn't read. And now he can.

So, with this topic in mind, the other day I asked him if he remembered when he was first able to read - thinking that the aha moment (if there was one) could only have been recently. But no, he doesn't remember. It just seems to have crept up on him, with daily exposure to words and reading.

Now he reads books he once had memorised - and he doesn't cheat! We labour through Mem Fox's Green Sheep, word by word, where months ago he 'read' it to me with a confident lilting cadence copied from my own reading out loud voice. Little Miss Three, who also 'reads' from memory, now gets frustrated with his progress and often mutters the next word under her breath. Saying it out loud just gets her in trouble from Master Five, who is determined to master it by himself.

To finish I must add that it's an absolute privilege and daily thrill to hear my gorgeous boy actually reading, because it's an activity that's brought so much enjoyment and enrichment to my own life.

Sarah Randles said...

I was desperate to learn to read. At about three, I remember insisting to my mother that I could read. She told me that I couldn't, and I responded that I could read 'a' and 'the' and 'of'. I can remember seeing the word shapes clearly in my own head. Mum finally taught me to read in self-defence, and by the time I went to kindergarten at four I could read picture books to the class.

My first memory of reading a book for myself is vivid. It was shortly before my sister was born, so I must have been not quite four and a half. My mother was too busy to read me my nightly chapter of The Magic Faraway Tree, and instead told me that I could read it for myself. I knelt in front of the sofa in the living room, with the book on the seat cushion, and started reading. I can still see the brown and cream tweed. It was not until Mum came to get me ready for bed that I realised I had read four chapters without stopping. I think there have been few delights in my life to compare with the sense of wonder and pride I felt as I understood that I could now read properly for myself.

Less that a year later I experienced the agony of being confined to a dark room with measles and nothing to read for days on end, and that sense of frustration is with me still as well.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

One of the really intriguing things emerging from these stories is the way that memories of an aha-moment seem so often to be linked to sensory memories, especially colour and texture. So far, including my own memory, we have raspberry-coloured velvet, ecru lace, orange cardboard (twice), brown hands, blue and white painted kitchen cupboards, a scratchy brown couch, apple green paint and soft furnishings, a spangled dress, a yellow sun, a book with an apple-green cover, the feel of sitting on a woven mat, a grey plastic sheet, green and gold coloured-in squares, the feel of sitting on a carpet, and a brown and cream tweed sofa. Memory is all about connectedness, and I think there's also a kind of moment of a new kind of self-awareness -- consciousness of self, as distinct from (or even opposed to) self-consciousness -- that may come with an awareness of reading, so that you remember your surroundings and where you were in them with great clarity.

Also, they can say what they like about Enid Blyton but I am amazed to see how important she was for how many people, presumably across a fairly wide age spectrum. Go Enid!

Ann ODyne said...

Comment No 90
which is many more than at The Guardian where they are ripping into The Worst Children's Books Ever and one remarked that she hates her child reading Enid Blyton, but that at the same age, she was reading Agatha Christie "which has about the same literary merit as ".

I can recall getting Little Golden Books in the 1950's, and that most of my 'formative years' reading (of books from the local library in a small town) was done on summer lawns in the shade - so that's the sensory memory I associate with getting into a good story.

Sarah Randles said...

Undoubtedly reading a steady diet of Enid Blyton in my formative years has done untold damage, but somehow I managed to get an honours degree in English and a PhD, and to join the Greens and Get Up anyway.

Mister X said...

You joined the Greens? Good Heavens!- what horrible misfortune!

(The rest is okay)

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Oi, no thread-hijacking please -- at least not on this thread. Once people start up about the Greens there'll never be an end to it!

Mister X said...

Yes, fair enough.

Ampersand Duck said...

Hmmm... I can't remember the actual point of 'getting' reading, but I know that I was reading at a very early age, and because I needed glasses but nobody knew, books were the sharpest, clearest, most approachable things in my life (everyone/thing else being kinda fuzzy, including the tv), and I had my nose in one constantly. I'll talk to my mum & see if she can jog my memory as to my first reading moment.

The first time I knew Bumblebee could *actually* read (as opposed to reciting back at me words from a loved book) was when we were driving through Fyshwick, the sex-toy/porn movie hub of the ACT/Australia, and he told me to stop the car because 'that shop is having a HOT HOT HOT DVD sale with lots of kisses!' (XXX XXX XXX)...

Fine said...

Like many others here, 'John and Betty' books were the staple. I can't remember reading for the first time, but I strongly remember the thrill of starting on a new book. which was mixed with some pride for being one of the best, meaning fastest, readers in class. 'Little Golden Books' were important to me, as were 'How and Why Wonder Books'. I remember the excitment of going to the newsagent with Mum to choose a new one.

One thing I couldn't read was a clock, because I was extremely short-sighted, I just couldn't see what was going on when we were taught to tell the time. But somehow I was good at faking it. Finally I fessed up to Mum who arranged for me sit up the front of the class where I could see. You might ask why they didn't just get me glasses, but my parents weren't being neglectful. There were good, medical reasons why I wasn't allowed a pair just yet.

But my chief frustration was when I'd read the childrens' library dry by the time I was about 10. I was absolutely bored with kids' books. But the local adult library wouldn't let children join. So Mum and Dad borrowed extra books for me. I discovered Dickens, Balzac, Zola, Orwell, Poe and Steinbeck while I was still in primary school. I still think they're great.

Anonymous said...

The very first word I remember reading and spelling out is 'c-a-t'.

Once I had mastered that word, the next one was c-a-t-e-r-p-i-l-l-a-r. Perhaps I'd seen the book, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" .

It certainly helped with the memory of the word because in a 5-year-old know-it-all manner, I spelt it out to the teacher and was sent to the principal to get a chocolate frog.

There's a mother with three children who says that they have all learnt to read differently.
The first appeared to 'just know', even though the parents had not tried to teach him anything before school.
The second liked to sound everything out.
And the third was visual and associated the picture with the word to work out meaning.

Anonymous said...

I distinctly remember my grandmother’s kitchen and being able to connect the letters on her fridge into a meaningful word – G-o-r-e-n-j-e (pronounced ‘gorenye’). I was four. I clearly remember the feeling of being able to read that word. I also remember the fridge: one of those ‘retro’ styles, I guess it would be adult waist height, with one door only and a bulky handle, the bold tactile silver letters were positioned horizontally across the top of fridge door. This memory is intricately linked with the smell and taste of mint tea flavoured with a drop of lemon and honey we used to drink together ‘like grown ups’ sitting at her kitchen table. (I think it’s pretty clear from the brand of the fridge that this was not in Australia.)

I then remember being able to read and write cards and postcards, mainly because my sister was born around this time, and we received many of then, which was quite exciting. (I'm not exactly sure what my 'writing' was like at this time, but the cards contained a few legible words.)

My parents would have been reading to me from the day I was born; they were both literature teachers.

I recall enjoying fairy tales quite a bit at this age (I loved dresses, princesses and the general promise of glitter and glamour), but I also recall the tragedy of 'The Little Mermaid', and this was not the sanitised Disney version. No happy ending here. Little Mermaid gives up her underwater mermaid life for a pair of human legs, she puts up with unbearable pain with every step she makes on land, and in the end dies because the Prince does not return her love.

I've kept up my passionate interest in reading and writing. I work in a reading and writing-related industry. The allure of fairy tales was short-lived, fortunately.

Armagny said...

Port Moresby, 4-5 years old, behind is the garden dominated by a couple of huge rainforest trees, perhaps figs, sun filtering in, I'm looking at a blackboard, or maybe one of those word charts, the word I remember was dog, dog was important because of Psyche, my first and only dog, Psyche didn't mind when I was adopted into the family, she adopted me too, her crazy, bug-eyed blue heeler face smiling and happy in my first memories of the world, so I read dog and my father approved and everything lined up in my world.

Later I learned she would stand in front of my cot, becoming aggressive when anyone other than my parents approached.

30 years later I put down a brochure on Steiner schools because they talked of reading like it was a chore. I loved it then, I love it now.

So does Bear.

Mitts is too young of course, but his favourite toy is Doggybook.

Life is more of a continuum than is first apparent...

Peter said...

Wow, 100 comments - what a marvellous thread!

I remember, back when I was still working, looking forward to being able to read a book a day when I retired. That hasn't quite worked out - too busy reading blogs. :)

Anonymous said...

Kerryn, lovely to see you last night. My mum says I used to read labels in the supermarket when I was very little, but I don't remember that. What I do remember is an enormous reluctance to read. I still remember telling my mum, in tears, I WON'T read, I'll never read, you can't MAKE me! -- a premonition of how much adult responsibility reading brings with it, and how I would struggle with words for the rest of my life...? I was actually behind in kinder, because I wouldn't read, then read Mulu the Cow straight through to my lovely teacher, who gave up her lunch. Delia

Suse said...

I don't have an AHA moment that I can recall, but I do know that I used to insist that Mum read me the same book every night - it was called The Little House, and was all in rhyme. Apparently I used to impress visitors because I would say the words and turn the pages at the right time, as if I was reading. (I was 2).

I was reading before I went to kinder though, and my parents were afraid I'd be bored.

At primary school I read every Enid Blyton I could get my hands on, and by grade 3 had read all the grade 3, 4, 5 and 6 books in the school library and the librarian would bring in books from 'grown up' libraries for me.

One memory I have is of reading something and my aunt saying I was "always in a corner somehwere, curled up with a book". And I thought, yeah, isn't everyone if they can?

As an aside, last night Son #3 (aged 10)took a book to Son #2's music concert and spent the entire night reading, looking up and clapping briefly at the end of every piece and then putting his nose firmly back in his pages. It thrilled me.

Elisabeth said...

All these abundant memories from so many bloggers. Mine are thin.
Saint Mary’s primary school in Greensborough. I’m seated on the floor in a ring of children, hands in our laps. This is the place where my older sisters and brothers go to school and I do not feel ready to join them. At least this is how I interpret the memory now. Around the walls high above my head the letters of the alphabet form a line of animals and objects. A is for ant, b for bat, c for cat, d for dog. Underneath the alphabet are the Stations of the Cross. The classroom converts back to its original form as the parish church every weekend for Sunday Mass. I confuse the two, the images of Christ with his crown of thorns, blood smearing his arms and back with the animals around the wall. I know instinctively that one day I will need to learn these things, these letters of the alphabet, these Stations of the Cross but I am overwhelmed by a sense that it is too hard and I will never make it. I will never catch up with the others.

Link said...

I don't remember when, but I do remember what & they have remained formative.

WV: fistifib.
Neigh! It be the truth!

Helen said...

I remember as a young kid always getting into trouble for reading all the time when I went to other people’s places.

I salute and sympathise with other sufferers of this syndrome. And I alliterate for Australia.

Pav, coming from Adelaide as I do, I wonder if you felt this as well that in Adders in the 60s it was considered quite weird to be a child who read. The other kids gave me a lot of grief about it! These days it seems quite an interlecktewal place, but it didn't seem so then!

w/v adings

Elisabeth said...

Twice now I’ve posted a comment but both times I did not speak of my earliest memory of reading. I have none to speak of. Beyond the alphabet on the walls of St Mary’s I can visualise the grades four, five and six readers published by the Victorian State Education Department. To me they were a treasure trove of words.

We read aloud from them during class time. Mother Mary John called out people’s names at random to read for a paragraph or two before moving on to the next person.

I loved having my turn. I rarely stumbled over words. I had the sense of performing in private. No one looked directly at me. Everyone’s head including Mother Mary John’s was in their books. In was not therefore a visual performance, one I might have hated, one I might have trembled at. Instead it was an auditory experience, as if each of us sat in our own little echo chamber, earphones on, able to block out the rest of the world.

We read poetry, Chesterton’s ‘Village Blacksmith’; ‘My Country’ by Dorothea MacKellar; the wind a torrent of darkness in Alfred Noyes’s 'Highway Man'. These, mostly British, works cast me into an unknown world of hedgerows and barley, of copses and streams. Occasionally we would hit the Australian vernacular with words from Henry Lawson or John O’Hara’s Call of the Bush. Clancy of the Overflow.
'I am sitting in my dingy little office…'

These put me in mind in my days in the classroom. How often I longed to be outside, beyond the streets of our suburbs, of Camberwell and Deepdene, far beyond and away into the country. In my mind’s eye I could see the wild grasses, smell the gum leaves and the sheep droppings. These were the sublime days of childhood when I began to long for the countryside. These were the days when I began to convert the drains and abandoned railroad crossings into magical places from far away. Where government land that had been neglected for years became for me alternative countries, places of beauty and awe. I remember these better than I remember learning to read. But it was through first reading that I could visit them and then in my imagination recreate them.

I salute the readers.

Helen said...

My first concrete memory of reading is sitting on the sofa (not called a couch, in those days) at my grandmother's house. My grandmother had one foot in the Edwardian era so I feel that I do. The sofa was upholstered with a very scratchy textured damask in a soft, faded jade green colour. My grandmother would read to me, by the hour or so I remember, from Edward Lear's nonsense. It was years before I learned how to write a proper limerick, but I still think Lear's nonsense is fabulous child reading-to material. And of course I rescued the copy we had in our house, when my parents moved to a unit and downsized.

Deborah said...

Very, very late to this party, even though the invitation came out days ago, but I'm so glad to see it's going strong.

I don't have a first read memory either, but I do clearly recall reading my first chapter book ever, one of Enid Blyton's Barney mysteries. It was sometime when I was about six and a half. I can recall sitting on the hearth with the fire burning, so it must have been winter, and showing it very proudly to my dad when he came in from work. I recall being very disappointed the following Christmas when my parents gave me picture books, even though they were lovely books (Kirsty at the Lodge anyone?). When I turned seven three weeks later they gave me chapter books. I read every single one of Mum and Dad's old books - did anyone else's parents have the complete series of Sue Barton Student/Senior/Visiting/etc Nurse books? They started taking me to the local library every week to feed my habit, a practice I now continue with my daughters.

H said...

The Daily Telegraph, 30/7/09 had this article.
A pensioner has laid claim to the title of Britain's most avid reader after it was discovered that she is about to borrow her 25,000th library book.
Louis Brown, 91, has read up to a dozen books a week since 1946...
Mrs Brown, a widow, said: "My parents were great readers and I've always loved books. I started reading when I was five and have never stopped."
An editorial comment says,
"Public libraries, a royal road to learning for all, are a quiet triumph of British civilisation. Lesser nations find that borrowers don't bring books back..."
Crikey! I always took mine back, on time, usually.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Well, I'm still a bit miffed that there appear to be no national Red Cross records about who's given blood where, having been a donor in two states on and off since I was seventeen and they were still measuring in pints and fluid ounces, and therefore quite interested to know how much of my blood is running in other people's veins (sinister, that's what it is, sinister), but I don't think there'd be any way of counting books one has read. Mind you, I've had the Sydney Morning Herald reviewing job for two and a half years now with one week off, the Christmas before last, so that means I've read, what, 516 novels in that time, not counting any other reading. Doesn't touch Mrs Brown, though.

Elisabeth said...

Some write here of the joys of reading books borrowed from the library. My pet horror at the time of reading such borrowed books as a child was the business of remembering to return them.
In those days the fines for not returning a book to the library were hefty, at least they seemed so to my seven year old self.
My mother harangued us regularly for forgetting where our books were in in order that we might return them on time. Given the size of my family, nine children, borrowing books simultaneously, the multiple fines could be enormous.
We were all slack in the business of returning books, my mother despaired. She would have liked to have banned the borrowing of books, I suspect, but she too was a reader and in those days, the sixties, ordinary people did not buy books in the main, they borrowed them. To this day I have a horror of not returning books borrowed. I now apply these principles to the borrowing of DVDs.
Heaven help my children when they're late returning a DVD, but worst of all is the lost DVD. A lost library book in my childhood brought with it untold horrors. There seemed no way in the world, no money enough ever to replace it. I had nightmares of lost books chasing me upstairs. This perhaps is one of the dark sides of learning to read.

Anonymous said...

My first glimmer of 'reading' came when I first realised that I could predict what a written word actually was by its length and shape on a page.
This was before I understood the alphabet and before I went to school at four and a half years of age.
I put the importance of size and shape had for me down to the fact that at htat stage I could fairly accurately draw objects by that stage.

Mummy/Crit said...

I don't have a lightbulb moment either, but I know I could read by the time I was kindergarten (5/6) as I was reading a book of stories about small animals and there was a misprint 'vet' instead of 'wet' and I pointed out the error to my step-father who explained about typos. Though this memory is also accompanied by simultaneous 'placement in space and time' cues that contradict each other,so perhaps I was a bit older.

I also remember my dad reading to me and pointing out the inconsistency of a rhyme. I think it was in The Terrible Tiger by Jack Prelutsky which was a perennial favourite. I'll have to see what the rhyme was now, I still have the same copy.

At some point (pre-school?) I remember reading some Ladybird books, other commenters have mentioned Nip and Fluff, who feel very familiar...

By about 9 I read The Hobbit and started on LOTR, but got a bit bogged down. I loved reading though, and the library was the best place to be at school.

D (now 9) has really only 'got' reading in the last 6-9 months, it was a real struggle until then. We hadn't tried to 'teach' him, but not prevented him either. We read to him a lot, and he was happy with that state of affairs.When he hit kindergarten he could recognise his own name, and 'knew' a few other letter names. He still refects some letters and numbers when he writes, but he's a leftie, and has some fine motor-skills issues.

Great idea for a book. I'd love to read it.

Jenny said...

Countless examples have shown that my early memories are not very reliable, but for what it's worth I totally remember having a bit of a light bulb moment reading aloud a sentence about a kangaroo jumping. Sometime during grade 1 (so 5ish yrs old), and up 'til then I'd never really understood the point of "reading", having just survived by guessing from the pictures in our not-hugely-exciting readers (or getting really bored sounding out letters that some well-meaning adult was pointing to). Anyway, I got the kangaroo sentence somehow slightly wrong (maybe he was bounding, or jumping across a road or something - there may or may not have been a joey involved) and just remember thinking "oh, so THAT'S why we can't just use the pictures." And after that I progressed pretty quickly from the easy book tubs to being one of the readingest kids in the class.

Facing Away from the Mirror said...

I don't know why I can't remember the moment when I could read but I do recall vividly being in the Royal Children's Hospital recovering from an appendectomy at age 8 when a group of nuns came to visit the ward. My mother had brought me a copy of Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild and I was utterly engrossed and could barely manage to acknowledge them. One rather crossly told me it was very rude to read when someone was talking and I was enraged at the unfairness of this. The book influenced me so much I eventually became a professional dancer and recently found a website by another Streatfeild reader who took up fencing and competed for Australia on the basis of an episode of White Boots. The joy of discovering a new author is still akin to going to an assignation with a secret lover.

Legal Eagle said...

My earliest reading memory is at my Aunt's wedding. I was 4 and a half. I was really mad because I was not allowed to be a bridesmaid. So half way through the service, I opened the Bible and read aloud what I could. Obviously this wasn't much: "And the something, blah blah the blah blah..." It's one of the few times I can recall my grandmother getting really mad!

Apparently I could sort of read before then. When I was about 3, I'd see EXIT signs and say, "TAXI!" in a delighted way. Err, almost...

Miglior acque said...

Happened upon this great post via the (marvellous) Humanities Researcher blog and am moved to post: I don't remember the first time I realized I could read, but I do have a very vivid memory of the first time I made letters join up (the word, alas I do not remember, but I do think that the letter 'e' was involved...). I remember the thrill of seeing my word look like actual handwriting and not wanting to stop.

WhatLadder said...

This is an interesting one. I remember the circumstances around being able to read, but not the reading itself. Because my parents were divorced, I didn't see my dad regularly, and I remember really clearly him picking me up in the summer to go on a trip, and I was reading the signs along the road, and he said "Oh, you didn't used to be able to do that". I must have been 7, because it was the year we moved to Australia.

Ozfemme said...

My first memory of being able to read: It was 1968, I was five and my eldest sister who was then 17, and in her first year at Flinders University, was sitting on the verandah of our modest little suburban home, pretending to study as she waited for her boyfriend to arrive to pick her up. It was, I remember, one of those winter's day when the sun was out. I sat down on the step next to her and began to read out loud from what I think was a psychology text book. Of course, I stammered and mispronounced and whilst I may have been a "precocious" early reader I'm sure I did not understand what I read. It was, from memory, that sister who had taught me to read before I began school.

Laura H said...

I remember my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Hughes, sitting us all down at her two horseshoe shaped tables and saying, "You're going to learn to read today." She put M and E up on the blackboard, and had us say the sounds more and more quickly until they ran together. She announced "Congratulations, you can read!"

I also remember working with my grandmother- my family ran a bookstore, and she had an office in the back. She would send me out to choose a book, then have me sound out one word at a time by looking through a square she'd cut in the middle of an index card.

M-H said...

I do remember being given my first take-home reading book at school (Janet and John) and reading the whole thing that evening, not just the first story, and what a delicious thing it was to discern a story in those symbols. But of course I got told off the next day for reading ahead of the rest of the class. My punishment was that I had to wait until they'd all caught up before the next book was issued. Although we had a lot of books at home, I don't think we had anything between picture books and books for much older children, like Heidi and What Katy Did, so I was stuck with the pace of the school dole-outs for a while. I was taken to the library from about age 6 or 7, and I remember the first books I took out were the Mary Plain series. I was a compulsive reader from then on. And, amazingly, Google tells me that they were the books that got Stephen Fry hooked on reading too.

Lea said...

My earliest recollections are to do with big words. I remember sounding out “rhododendron” while I traced the syllables with my finger and looked at a picture of a bright red one trailing over the walls of a house. And I remember walking home from school, along a country town road lined with big oak trees, spelling out to myself “understanding”, u-n-d-e-r-s-t-a-n-d-i-n-g. I can instantly picture which section of the road I was walking on when I knew I’d finally imprinted it in my mind. I felt delighted about being part of this until now secret world of big words, as well as very proud of myself for knowing how to spell one of them off by heart.

Lovely post, thanks.

Ann ODyne said...

International Literacy Day post at Melbourne's Intelliblog so I linked there to these 122 passionate recollections of I Can Read!