four and a half years ago…

Posted: 29 May 2015 in fiction, writing
Tags: , ,

I was lucky enough to get to see Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer last night, along with their guests (including Mitch Benn, the extra-ordinarily talented and lovely Andrew O’Neil, and Hayley Campbell, whose writing impresses me more every time I get to read it.) They’re guest-editing the current edition of New Statesman, and NS put on an evening’s entertainment which, as I say, I was fortunate enough to attend. I’ve known Neil for longer than my son’s been alive and it was so nice to catch up with him, Amanda and others after the show.

Backstage, Neil was embarrassingly nice about my own writing and it reminded me this morning about the following.

Way back when (well, about three years ago) I had another blog, hosted on Livejournal. For various reasons, all of which are too boring to relate here, I ceased that blog and started one here. But the old one’s still around, and it’s useful to be occcaisionally link to it. You can read all the fast fiction challenges in 2010 and the 150 stories I wrote for them in 150 days here, for example. There’s an entry I keep bookmarked for whenever anyone tries to tell me that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah; here’s why he isn’t, if you’re interested.

Some of the entries have been cross-posted to this blog; on occasion, when there’s something I want to add to whatever I wrote, or simply just to repost it to a new audience.

Like this post.

About four and years ago, Neil was fifty years’ old. Well, to be fair, for the next 365 days as well, he was fifty, but upon the occasion of Neil fiftieth birthday I couldn’t think what to get him as a birthday present. But seeing as he’s encouraged me and encouraged me and… well, nagged me on occasion, frankly… to write more, I wrote him the following.

I hadn’t ever intended to put it up on the blog, but Neil said I should, so… enjoy.

There Once Was A Child…

There once was a child who did not read.

It was not that he couldn’t read; he had read in the past. However, he told his parents, his friends and all who asked that he no longer read. And yet, the bookshelves of his bedroom were filled to overflowing with volumes of all kinds: hardback novels, paperback collections of long out of print stories, the occasional biography, and comic books by the hundred. And few of them did not show signs of use.

Nonetheless, contrary to the apparent evidence, he responded to all enquiries with the simple declaration that he did not read. And the child became angry when this assertion was challenged, despite many having seen him with an open book.

His parents, while puzzled at the fervour with which he maintained that He Did Not Read the books, were content to allow the child his eccentricity. After all, his father commented, he’ll grow out of it. His mother, however, worried.

His teachers were far less understanding and punished the child by assigning additional books to him. Within days, the child would return the book, commenting knowledgeably upon the contents, but insisting that he hadn’t read the book.

One day, it happened that an author was visiting the school, and in despair teachers begged him to meet the child.

So he sat with the child. And they talked.

“What is the word for when you lose yourself in wonder?” the child asked the writer. “It cannot be ‘reading’, for that is such a small word. And inside a book is so big. When I open a book, I am no longer myself. I am a sailor. Or a spy. Or a magical beast. Or…”

The child paused, and the writer was touched to see the child blush. “Or I am a boy wizard,” the child finished, quietly.

The writer was careful not to laugh, for he did not wish either to offend the child, or to patronise him.

And then he explained to the child something they both knew, but only the adult understood: that any word or phrase had only the weight and importance given to it by the one experiencing it at that moment.

“Do you believe reading is an end, of and for itself?” he asked the boy.

“No,” replied the child, “but everyone else seems to.”

“But we know they’re wrong, do we not?”

And then the child understood – reading was freedom to decide for yourself how much of yourself you gave to the experience; reading was the gateway to the world, to every world.

Reading was experience of everything.

There was once a child who did not read… or at least did not read for reading’s sake.

Let us hope there are many, many more.

I was reminded of it last night and again this morning, so even though Neil’s four and a half years older than fifty now and my own fifty-first birthday is rapidly approaching… I get to say a belated happy birthday again and again and again. 

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