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14. Why Read?

When I was little my middle sister and I waged war over the breakfast table.  We’d sit opposite each other, build a fort of cereal boxes and voraciously devour the backs.  I remember the bitter outrage when the shreddies box would spin round before I’d even reached ‘Riboflavin B2’.  It was considered unsporting to clamp it down with one hand while shovelling cereal with the other, the whole point was you had to finish reading shreddies before she tired of cheerios.  It was a silent battle, rarely spoken of and our poor youngest sister never even got a look in.  She sat at the edge of the table with her beaker and only a cereal box spine for breakfast fodder.

Old habits die hard and now I do battle on the tube.  Crammed in I’ll catch sight of a fellow commuter scanning the adverts and will race them to the end of our carriage (bonus points for eye-straining ads with small print).  It’s hard to know for sure whether I’ve won without asking and looking like a complete nutter, but I suspect I usually do….I’ve been training for years after all.  A riskier version is to compete with someone by reading an article in their own newspaper, over their own shoulder.  You have to be subtle; this is like parachuting into enemy territory, literacy espionage of the highest order.

I hope that one day I’ll transform from greedy wordgobbler to seasoned bookhound but for now I’m happy to suck up all the words I see; after all reading doesn’t wear them out.  I’m a bit more cautious with real literature.  You get back from books what you put in, and with careful selection and respectful concentration you can eventually arm yourself with a coterie of characters to fight life’s real battles for you.

Emily Rees Jones

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