Jumbled Thoughts on my Reading Journey

When I was a teenager I decided to become a poet. I wanted to do something arty and all the other avenues seemed to have quite high starting requirements: either cash investment (canvases, chisels, trombones, etc.) or many hours of tedious out loud practising (chisels, trombones, tap-shoes, etc.). I decided that poetry, for which nothing much was needed besides a pencil and a bit of scrap paper, was the way forward.

I wanted to do something arty to impress the girls, which as a teenager seemed terribly important and urgent at the time, but having a wash might’ve worked better. Nevertheless I wrote some poems (very bad ones) and then I went to the library where I dutifully fed my pocket money into the photocopier as if it were a jukebox and I were living a different life.

I photocopied and stapled little booklets of poems together and handed them out to anyone who cared enough to take one from me. (Every now and then I get a semi-threatening message on Facebook from someone in my past reminding me they still have one of these. I think they mean well, but I wish on them a cold winter when fuel for the fire is in short supply and they’re not feeling nostalgic.)

Eventually my poems became better poems and the stories I wrote became better stories, and now I feel less embarrassed to know that books filled with my words are on strangers’ shelves, but back there, back then, was where it all started – and I just want you to look around at that building.

This was the library. As a teenager I worked my way through its poetry shelves, its tape and CD collections, browsing, nibbling, experimenting, and years before that my dad, going out to his evening job as a cleaner, dropped me off once a week and picked me up on his way home. I ate my way through the children’s section, absorbing my education from the non-fiction shelves, giving my dreams wings with the fiction.

I was an autodidacting before I even knew autodidact wasn’t really a verb.

Jorge Luis Borges said: “I think of myself as being essentially a reader. As you are aware, I have ventured into writing; but I think that what I have read is far more important than what I have written. For one reads what one likes – yet one writes not what one would like to write, but what one is able to write.” I echo with the truth of this.

I write because I like making things, whether they’re tiny poems like fragile birds, or novels like waves shuckling in the distance in the night, but really, to be honest, it’s just something I do to fill the time in between books I want to read – I mean, you have to fill your time somehow and it’s better than getting a real job.

Some people, I’m sure have better reasons for reading – all I can say is: it’s what I do; it’s what I like to do; it’s what I know to do; now leave me alone, I’m halfway through this chapter…

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Photo of AF Harrold

A.F. Harrold is an English poet who writes and performs for adults and children. He spends his time showing off on stage, writing poems and books, and stroking his beard (it helps churn the ideas). He is the author of the Fizzlebert Stump series (ilus. Sarah Horne), The Imaginary, The Song from Somewhere Else (illus. Levi Pinfold) and the Greta Zargo series (illus. Joe Todd Stanton). He lives in Reading with a stand-up comedian and two cats.

Image (c) Naomi Woddis 2011