19 October 2016

The space that books make in your head

Last week I went to a lecture by New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox. She spoke of the space that books make in our head, and of the exercise that reading gives our brain cells.

It does feel like that, doesn't it? I have 35 years of novels and non-fiction behind me, and must have hundreds or thousands of these spaces in my head, with the biggest ones formed by the books I've loved the most. I suppose they are not in fact spaces, but networks or clumps of neurones in my brain. Isn't the brain the most incredible hunk of flesh?


Sharing this love of reading for learning and for pure joy with our children has been one of the best parts of parenting. Last night I cuddled down in bed with Anna, and embarked upon one of the books that still occupies a whopping big space or network in my brain, formed when I was about her age, and reinforced by a big dose of pleasure: The Magician's Nephew, by C.S. Lewis. Polly. Digory. Rings. Tree. Wardrobe. Bliss! (Although in truth I can remember little of the story, except for how it made me feel.) Last night was the first delectable one of many, with the wonderful The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to look forward to next. We're reading my original copies**, made tatty by re-reading.

Knox spoke of how as a child she played imaginary games with her sister, lying in bed and inventing stories across the darkness of their shared bedroom, Bronte-like. Incredibly, although Knox must be over 50, the sisters still do it! Except now they do it via Skype. Knox's sister is also an author. Those little girls grew themselves big fat loops of imagination neurones - and Knox is renowned for her imaginative writing. (I think the goodness may have overflowed to Knox's magnificent hair follicles, too. I wanted to pat her like a cat, then make some interesting hairstyles with it.)

She spoke of her inability to write at primary school, and of how she had to therefore hold ideas in her head, and constantly searched for connections between ideas until they made sense.

The literati in the esteemed halls of Waikato Uni's S-block on Wednesday. Knox in the centre, and Eleanor Catton far right. Oh, and my friend Anne, the shortest one! Not a literati member, but she is a 'Librarianne'. 

Also quietly in the audience was Booker-prize winner Eleanor Catton, whose husband is a writer-in-residence at the University of Waikato, where the lecture was held. I've read that she grew up without a TV, surrounded by books.

These early influences grow our brains so powerfully. What will happen to all those children who don't read? Who saw the Harry Potter movies but never read the books? Or, as I heard from a gaming-addicted mother about her son recently, those who can't even concentrate for long enough to watch a movie?

Time will tell. Maybe they'll be fine. But they'll certainly be different.


* Thanks to my mother, who, although we couldn't afford many new books, often stopped at a Book Exchange shop on the way home from work and bought me very cheap second-hand books, which had a strange smell. I didn't care.
** Bought new about 35 years ago, most likely from the Scholastic Book Club at school (it had a different name then, I think, but I can't remember it).

No comments :

Post a comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...