And you’re doing it now.
Is it a chore for you?
It was a chore for me
It was always a chore me.
I hated it.
As a child, reading was not something I held any great enthusiasm towards.
It was time-consuming. It was tedious. And I did my best to avoid it whenever and however I could.
And yet, starting to read was one of the single most important developments I implemented in my life.
Reading has changed my life because it has changed my mind, many times over.
Open a book to open your mind
The character was wrong.
My character. Their character. The cultural character. It all stank!
There was just too much closed-mindedness and self-defeatism around me as I was growing up.
The worst part is that I was just the same.
I come from one of those places where giving up is just what you do because it is what everyone else does.
I am trying not to be too harsh, but I come from one of those places where different opinions and behaviours are not always tolerated.
Whether it is intentional or not, the cultural character of where I grew up was… shit.
So opening a book to open your mind was not exactly on the list of priorities for most people.
Readers were in the minority.
They were ridiculed and teased for it.
At school, you would not be caught dead reading.
You probably read that and thought it is like that in any school. Well, mine especially!
But avoiding reading was easy for me because I didn’t enjoy it and I couldn’t read anyway.
Reading was a waste of my time!
I did not like how it was forced on me at school and I did not like how it took time away from more important things… such as watching films.
I loved watching films.
One trick I used at school in English class, when I was supposed to be reading, is that I would stare at the book and let my mind wander off to some place better.
This was basically my attitude through most of my primary and secondary schooling.
- Status Quo – There was the closed-minded cultural problem around me.
- I personally hated school with a fiery conviction – I did not like the time school stole from me and my form of rebelling was to ignore everything that was being taught to me, not that it was being taught that well in the first place!
- Family never encouraged me – Again, cultural problem, my family were not big readers, so it was hard for them to encourage something in me they themselves did not value that highly.
- Self-esteem – My education was a huge source of anxiety for me. I did not like being forcibly educated, but equally I hated how I struggled to keep up with everyone around me. As such, it put a huge dent in my self-esteem, which just said, “Why bother?”
The solution… I needed to find a way to open my mind and use my education to better myself.
The problem was that schooling and reading were both very boring to me.
I needed a way out of it.
And I needed an exciting way back into it, on my own terms.
The Name is Fleming… Ian Fleming
Nobody likes boredom, not even Ian Fleming.
Boredom is the reason Fleming created James Bond.
A life-long bachelor suddenly married, Fleming needed an outlet, so he started writing about an alter-ego who could continue his bachelor lifestyle for him.
But he went one step further, Fleming used his own wartime experience of working in the British Secret Service to create a bachelor who was also a spy.
By doing so, Fleming not only created a character who he enjoyed writing about, he forged a hero that the public enjoyed reading about.
I had not heard of James Bond, not until I was nine years old and watched my first Bond film.
I was not prepared for the experience!
A View to A Kill is one of the less highly rated Bond films, not least because it has a leading man who is old enough to be the father of the women he beds and would most likely give himself a heart attack if he actually attempted any of the film’s physical feats in real life.
But to a nine-year-old mind with an overactive imagination that had been raised on Arnold Schwarzenegger flicks, A View to A Kill was a revelation.
From the opening gunbarrel to the end credits, I was transfixed.
Everything about A View to A Kill I found enthralling, from the continual action sequences to the imaginative finale on the Golden Gate Bridge. It was adventurous and fantastical, but it also held a quirky flavour I had not encountered in a film before.
That quirkiness was the shaken not stirred James Bond formula and I wanted more.
I did not have to wait long. Not long after I watched A View to A Kill, ITV ran a James Bond marathon and I was introduced to the full brilliance of the cinematic James Bond.
He did not disappoint.
I remember having to keep getting new video cassettes to record the films because I was not prepared for how many films there were. And, yes, I was a child in the age of VHS, its last few years in fact.
This was 1999 and all eighteen Bond films were being shown in the run up to the release of the 19th Bond film, The World is not Enough.
Although, ITV only ended up showing seventeen films; for some reason, they skipped GoldenEye in favour of the network premiere of Tomorrow Never Dies.
It did not matter. I had enough James Bond to last a lifetime.
The Bond films ignited my imagination in a way no other set of films ever really have.
I have always loved watching films for their ability to transport to other worlds. T
he more daring and ingenious those transportations are, the more I enjoy them, and the Bond films are some of the best for an impressionable nine-year-old.
The gadgets. The action. The car chases. The exotic locations. The girls. The plots. The villains. The henchmen. The humour. The Britishness. The hero. Bond offered the best type of escapism.
As part of this Bond marathon, ITV also showed a documentary, The James Bond Story, which made the Bond experience all the more fascinating for me, because it explored the stories behind the films and introduced me to the main man himself, Ian Fleming.
It had never occurred to me that something as thrilling as the Bond films could have started in book form and all have been conceived by one man.
That was all I needed to get me interested in reading.
Although, it still took me a while to start doing it…
My mum had helped me piece together the James Bond literary collection from second-hand paperbacks.
Originally, I only had ten of the fourteen books.
I was missing the first book, Casino Royale.
So I started with the second.
Live and Let Die was not just my first Bond book, it was the first book of any kind that I read from cover to cover.
When I was twelve going on thirteen, I still could not read because I was still not doing it.
In the three years between being introduced to James Bond and starting my first Bond book, I had still done my best to avoid reading… mainly because I enjoyed watching films so much more.
I had a problematic relationship towards my education and I still hated not being able to read out loud in class without being laughed at, but those are not really the reasons I suddenly decided to start reading.
I started because I wanted to start.
It was as simple as that.
I started because I wanted to improve myself.
I didn’t just want to improve my reading and my writing.
I started to read because I wanted to become a person who reads books.
So I did.
I went back to the secret agent… and I discovered James Bond all over again.
Reading Live and Let Die was hard going, not least because I had barely used my reading muscles, but because the novel is set in 1952 and I had to get my head around a lot of cultural and language differences to the world of 2003.
Admittedly, Live and Let Die was probably the worst Bond book I could have begun with because the novel is riddled with Fleming’s very ill-judged decision to write African American speech phonetically.
Aside from being highly insulting to African Americans, it is also bloody hard to read!
I recently re-read Live and Let Die and I still struggled to work my way through the phonetic speech passages.
It was an excruciating effort forcing myself to keep reading it the first time around and the concept of reading a full chapter in a single sitting was something that eluded me.
I remember calling it a day after only reading the first two pages. It took me a very long while to get through the first chapter!
It’s not that I could not read – all the basics skills I needed to read the words and discern the meaning of the text was already present in my mind – I just lacked long drawn out practice.
I struggled a lot through the first couple of chapters (which also annoying contain the most phonetically written speech), It was like I suddenly found myself running a marathon, but my muscles were undeveloped and the stamina was just not there yet.
But the intriguing plot and the very different (and more realistic) portrayal of the Bond character than what I had seen in the films, kept me turning the page.
It is no wonder why the Bond novels have translated so successfully onto the silver screen – Fleming is a gripping writer with an explosive imagination.
Then as the pace of the plot of Live and Let Die quickened so did my reading speed and, before I knew what had happened, I found I found myself closing the back cover of the book.
I had finished it.
I could not believe it.
I had actually finished reading a book.
A whole book.
My very first one.
Then guess what I did.
I started reading the next book, Moonraker.
Flew through it.
Then Diamonds Are Forever.
Dr No I read in two days. Two days!
And I just kept going.
I was hooked.
Not just for finding out what happens next in the adventures of James Bond, I was hooked on the process of reading.
I was enjoying the ritual of sitting down, opening a book and massaging my mind with the workout of reading prose.
By the time I finished the last my bond book, Octopussy & The Living Daylights, I discovered that I not only had an urge to read more, but I had an urge to write as well.
And I did, that was when I started my writing.
All thanks to James Bond and Ian Fleming, my experience of reading has become one of enjoyment and endeavour.
By engaging with reading and continuing to do so, I have come to realise that reading is not a tedious waste of time. Far from it.
Reading is like being a nine-year-old sat in front of the TV watching a James Bond film.
It’s fun and its eye-opening and it’s full of new ideas and perspectives.
Reading is the process of being transported to another world and making that world a part of yourself.
Eight hundred books later…
“You will get a new laptop and money to spend on books.”
This was the promise my dyslexic housemate made to me when he convinced me to take the universities free dyslexia assessment.
He was dyslexic and he had got a new laptop and money to spend on books, so I might as well too.
I already knew I was dyslexic, but if I wanted the perks then I had to get an official assessment done.
I sat the online tests and I met with the psychologist who assessed me one-to-one.
And then the revelation hit home… I was not dyslexic!
No new laptop for me.
I used to be dyslexic because that is how my illiteracy was explained by an education system that did not give a damn.
The feeling was mutual.
But I was equally as much to blame, because by being stubborn and not acting sooner, for many years I kept myself in a place of powerlessness.
And that is what it means to be closed-minded and self-defeatist, it means to give up all power and opportunity.
It means to give up on life.
When I closed the back cover of Live and Let Die, I felt like I had been given a second chance because I felt like I had claimed my life back.
It was such a wonderfully empowering feeling.
Not only had I proved to myself that I could in fact read, but I wanted to read more!
And something else happened, something I had not even planned on happening.
At school, I suddenly found myself being moved from the bottom English class up to the top English class. I could not believe it!
This proved to be an important transition in my education life because I guess you could say that it was one of the first real achievements, I felt like I had earned for myself as part of my education.
And it had a major knock-on effect, being moved up to the top English class inspired me to be much more proactive with my education and to start taking it more seriously.
And that’s precisely what I did.
Because I had learned how to enjoy learning.
By reading about what I was learning in my own time and by reading multiple books at the same time (a practice I still do to this day).
Nineteen years of additional education and eight hundred books later… when it comes to living an open-minded life where I can learn anything I want to learn and create my own opportunities… I’m on fire!
When was the last time you opened a book?
Live and let read.