A novel way to celebrate reading
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.
To book fair they will go: Lucas and Lachie dressed for success.