A novel way to cel­e­brate read­ing

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - Lynda Hal­li­nan

In win­ter, I avoid all forms of fat­burn­ing ex­cept that ad­vo­cated by 18th-cen­tury English es­say­ist Joseph Ad­di­son: ‘‘Read­ing,’’ he said, ‘‘is to the mind what ex­er­cise is to the body.’’

I’ve al­ways been a seden­tary book­worm, but these days the stack of un­read nov­els and fem­i­nist man­i­festos on my bed­side ta­ble is bur­den­some.

In be­tween rais­ing chil­dren, run­ning a house­hold, binge-watch­ing trashy come­dies on Net­flix and try­ing to fin­ish writ­ing my own mag­num opus on dam­son plums, read­ing other peo­ple’s books has taken a back seat.

To be hon­est, most of the books I read these days have pic­tures in them, so when my chil­dren’s pri­mary school cel­e­brated its an­nual book fair with a dress-up day this week, I recog­nised most of the char­ac­ters.

There were cats in hats, fan­tas­tic foxes, su­per­heroes of ev­ery per­sua­sion, and a gag­gle of Hermione Grangers and Harry Pot­ters. The school prin­ci­pal, Mrs Stu­art, came dressed as a witch, though I for­got to ask whether she was chan­nelling Roald Dahl’s Grand High Witch, the Wicked Witch of the West, or Spike Mil­li­gan’s Bad­jelly.

My 7-year-old son Lu­cas and his best mate Cameron both wanted to be Minecraft creep­ers. ‘‘You have to go as a book char­ac­ter, not a com­puter game char­ac­ter,’’ I tut­tut­ted.

‘‘I’m a creeper from the Di­ary of a

Minecraft Zom­bie books,’’ Lu­cas replied, dis­play­ing the same sort of petty point-scor­ing logic that I use to win ar­gu­ments with his fa­ther.

To be hon­est, I was grate­ful he chose to be one of Minecraft’s most hos­tile mob­sters, and not the book’s goofy lead char­ac­ter, Zack Zom­bie, be­cause I can’t sew a dress-up cos­tume to save my­self.

Lu­cas – ever the bud­ding en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist – was con­tent to re­cy­cle the same creeper one­sie he wore to the book fair last year, when some of his class­mates asked why he was wear­ing py­ja­mas while his teacher, who isn’t of the iPad gen­er­a­tion, mis­took him for a pix­e­lated Ker­mit the frog.

My 5-year-old son Lachie, known to ev­ery­one in the fam­ily as Lox, de­cided to go as the an­thro­po­mor­phic Mr Box Joey ‘‘Grouchy Guy’’ Knox from Dr Seuss’ tonguetwist­ing clas­sic, Fox in Socks.

In the book, Knox is the colour of vanilla cus­tard and wears a shaggy yel­low jumper; Lachie donned a painted box with Te­flon tape straps and a card­board mask over his navy blue ther­mal un­der­wear. I also tried to dye his blond hair with food colouring but suc­ceeded only in stain­ing my fin­ger tips as yel­low as a pack-a-day smoker.

It’s lucky the school doesn’t ask par­ents to dress up in a sim­i­larly book­ish fash­ion be­cause my snap poll at the cof­fee cart that morn­ing drew a round of blank faces when I asked the adults who their favourite book char­ac­ters were.

‘‘Jamie,’’ vol­un­teered Sarah the espresso en­tre­pre­neur. ‘‘Oliver?’’ I guessed.

‘‘No, James Alexan­der Mal­colm MacKen­zie Fraser from Out­lander,’’ she said.

Never heard of him, but hav­ing sub­se­quently googled ac­tor Sam Heughan, who plays the dash­ing war­rior in the tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tion of Diana Ga­bal­don’s time-travel fantasy nov­els, I can def­i­nitely see his ap­peal.

In sum­mer, when my gar­den was open to the pub­lic and I was slav­ing

in it for eight hours a day, I signed up to a monthly sub­scrip­tion at au­di­ble.com. If I had no time to read books, I fig­ured, I’d let other peo­ple read them to me.

Week af­ter glo­ri­ous week, I worked my way through all the ti­tles rec­om­mended by the five-star book re­views I rou­tinely cut out of mag­a­zines.

I knocked off Pa­tri­cia Lockwood’s mar­vel­lous mem­oir Pri­est­daddy, Jen­nifer Egan’s A Visit from The Goon

Squad and Man­hat­tan Beach,

Gabriel Tal­lent’s My Ab­so­lute Dar­ling, Lit­tle Fires Ev­ery­where

by Ce­leste Ng, Ju­lian Barnes’ The Only Story, Amanda Craig’s The Lie of the Land, Three Things

about Elsie by Joanna Can­non and David Sedaris’ en­tire back cat­a­logue. There wasn’t a dud among them.

It was de­vel­op­ing into an ex­pen­sive habit so I re­joined the Auck­land Li­brary. Its au­dio book col­lec­tion is ex­ten­sive, though there seems an in­or­di­nate num­ber of bodice rip­pers.

‘‘Ooh,’’ I blushed to no one in par­tic­u­lar while lis­ten­ing to some un­ex­pect­edly porno­graphic prose on a long drive home, ‘‘this is get­ting a bit raunchy’’.

A small voice piped up from the back seat: ‘‘Mummy, what does raunchy mean?’’

I thought my kids were fast asleep but there they were, sit­ting up, bog­gle-eyed and en­tranced by the power of the writ­ten word.

‘‘Read­ing,’’ said the Amer­i­can chil­dren’s fic­tion writer Kate DiCamillo, ‘‘should not be pre­sented to chil­dren as a chore, a duty.

It should be of­fered as a gift’’, though per­haps not one with an X-rat­ing.

Lachie donned a painted box with Te­flon tape straps and a card­board mask over his navy blue ther­mal un­der­wear.

LYNDA HAL­LI­NAN

To book fair they will go: Lu­cas and Lachie dressed for suc­cess.

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