Growing up: A tale of books read, by Dylan Dartnell

Once upon a time, in an age few can recall, lived a boy who read books upside down sitting on his Nanna’s recliner chair; his feet dangling well above the carpet floor. The couch was warm and the house still. The midday movie had just finished and Gameboys had not yet been registered into existence so reading was all that was to be had.

That boy now has a beard, a HECS debt, attachment issues with his phone, but a twenty-five-year long—and counting—relationship with books. To celebrate Book Week (17-23 August 2019), that boy—me—looks upon those formative readings that formed the adult I have since become.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

This is the first book I remember risking breaking curfew. When bedtime was 7:30pm, I was up all hours of the night (8:30pm), hiding beneath the duvet, and reading—by torchlight—Snape’s warning to the stuttering Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor, Professor Quirrell, while Harry skulked the Hogwarts halls beneath the invisibility cloak.

I was the boyhood fan that kept archives of the Professors of Hogwarts and spells in the backs of old exercise books. I cross-referenced the books against the movies as they were released and re-enacted duelling scenes with my younger brother and friends. The Philosopher’s Stone is a book I don’t care to count how many times I’ve read. Even Mum said to me, ‘I can buy you something else if you like. You don’t have to re-read the same book if you don’t want to.’

‘But Mum: I do want to.’

Deltora Quest, Emily Rodda

This was horcrux hunting before Harry, Ron, and Hermione knew what horcruxes were. I read these books while I was still in primary school; a time when I was yet to understand the concept of a series. I never read these books in order and often re-read them before moving on to the next. The Forests of Silence and the Maze of the Beast were my favourites (if I can recall them correctly). Restore the seven gems to the belt of Deltora and save the province, and with each gem comes a new power. One scene that I have never forgotten from the Forests of Silence is when the protagonists stumble by an old cottage home to a warm and welcoming, elderly couple that spoke a foreign language. One night Lief, the protagonist, harnesses the power of one of the gems and realises that it was all an illusion and the language the elderly couple/goblins spoke was reversed English. Blew my little primary-school mind!

The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown

I was 15 and read this one by lamplight rather than torchlight. I was sending myself early to bed to read for half an hour because I had started a 5:30am routine that meant I could take my maltese-shihtzu puppy, Millie, for a run.

That routine lasted the duration of the book and hasn’t happened since.

I marvelled at the complexity of the narrative and the amount of research that pieced this book together—and, of course, the others to follow. In hindsight I can look back on my time reading this book and say that it was one of the first where I became aware, on some level, that I was no longer reading as a hobby anymore but studying the mechanics of the writing. I am one for an enticing historical mystery (whether it be fictionalised or not) but even then, I was thinking: could I do this? Could I write something like this?

Collected Poems, T.S. Eliot

I’m embarrassed to admit this but not much was read during high school. My years spent pretending to be interested in human biology and chemistry deadened reading for me (and as a Masters of Arts student now, let me tell you how much of a waste of time that was). But my English Literature unit was my compass to a time once glimpsed when reading was something I did for fun and, ultimately, my True North for what I do now.

My lit teacher wore a bobbed haircut as sharp as her cheekbones and often gave her instructions in French. She then repeated herself in English (to which she rolled her eyes) because no one understood what she said. And then repeated herself a third time because, well, we were 16–17 year olds who don’t listen to instructions the first time round anyway.

Was she French?

No.

But she did introduce me to a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot who I have studied a number of times since. Those afternoons we spent learning to read poetry aloud and discuss the context and meaning of “Wasteland” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, as tired and as stuffy as we were in our noose-like neck ties and over-sized black blazers, I remember falling in love with syntax in its purest form: poetry, and for that I am grateful to Mrs Rees.

Bossypants, Tina Fey

I read this during the height of my adolescence. Comedy, especially stand-up, taught me structure and rhythm similar to, albeit different from, the way poetry had years previously. Tina Fey seemed to me the authority of poignant and clever comedy and it was her style that made me laugh the most. A childhood friend lent me her copy of Bossypants and I tore through it with the added commentary of said friend’s notes that were scratched into the margins, while punchlines and anecdotes were highlighted and bookmarked. I lapped up every bit of it for myself wanting to drink in the brilliance and prayed that I soaked up enough to be half as good.

What have you got planned for Book Week this year?

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