The Godfather: Peter Corris on reading
I was a precocious reader. As I’ve written elsewhere, the family story is that I learned to read when I was four years old from having the roadside billboards spelled out to me on the long drive from Stawell, in the Wimmera district of Victoria, to Melbourne. Obviously, from that early beginning I cannot remember when I could not read – probably that is true for all but very late starters.
When I think back to my early days two things predominate – books and sport; not people. I was fond of my parents and my brother and sister and had friends, but there was nothing intense about these connections. To be honest, my intense relationships were with characters in the books I consumed as an addicted reader – Tarzan of the Apes, flying ace Bigglesworth, Sanders of the River, Deerfoot in the Forest and others.
I believe I lived a fantasy life richer and more interesting than my actual life, through these books. In the fifth grade at Kingsville Primary School I was sometimes delegated to read to the class for a few sessions when the teacher was absent and substitutes weren’t immediately available. Being something of a show-off and not notable in any other field (despite my valiant efforts at football and cricket), I enjoyed these moments, although they did not increase my popularity with my schoolmates.
Reading has provided more enjoyment in my life, more, say, than sex or drinking, both energetically pursued at times, than anything else except my delight in my family and children and grandchildren.
So it was a major upset, first when I could no longer read standard print and had to resort to ebooks and later when audiobooks became my standard fare. I’ve written earlier about these changes but I haven’t spelled things out completely.
The fact is that I’m still reading print (on Kindle). I’m halfway through a fine debut novel by Ian McGuire, The North Water (2016). I’ve been reading it since I heard it discussed, alongside an author interview, by Michael Cathcart on Radio National’s Books and Arts program three or four months ago.
It so happens that I have fairly frequent medical appointments. Typically, doctors’ schedules being what they are, one sits and waits to be called. To have earphones blocking the call would be inconsiderate and potentially embarrassing so I resort to the Kindle with the text blown up to provide about 50 words per screen and using strong reading glasses. It’s a slow process and tiring if persisted with for too long, but to have no access to a book through a long or even a short wait would be a torture. Against my expectation, I’m enjoying the book read in this way and such is its force that I have no difficulty picking up the story after the lapse of weeks.
I admit I’ve been tempted to find if it’s available on audio in order to get through it more quickly, but I’ve resisted. There is something comforting about still being able to read in the (more or less) ordinary 20th-century way. The trouble is, I don’t have another medical appointment until early next year. Will I be able to hold out?