In the same year that I discovered the treasures of the school library, my parents began reading the Narnia series to me (and my brothers) at bedtime. At the tender age of seven, I was hooked – on Narnia of course – and on reading. I began to devour books at every spare moment. My mother shook her head when my report card came home: “Jenny’s spelling needs improvement. She should read more.” Rather than reading more, Mum was encouraging me to read less. I had a quota – I was only allowed to read one (chapter book) a day.
I’m still hooked on reading as the piles of books on my floor waiting to find some non-existent bookshelf space attest. I am sure many of you can tell similar childhood stories of finding the enchantment and joy of reading. Books while away a dull hour while we wait at bus stops and airports, comfort us when we are too sick to do anything else, provide escape from the stresses and boredom of our ordinary lives. Books transport us to other worlds; reaching across far flung distances and centuries or maybe just the suburb next door. They reveal fascinating facts and magnificent settings, unveil the mysteries of other cultures and mindsets, give us insight into other people lives and motivations, take us to the heights and the depths of human emotion, help us to confront our fears and challenge us to be better, to do better in our lives. There are many other ways to learn – going out and doing, connecting with people, engaging with other media, spiritual disciplines – but for me a life without books is hard to imagine.
From wisdom of the Scriptures to the avalanche of other books I have read over the decades, books have sculptured my thoughts, led me to new insights and directed me down different paths. And this is as true for the fiction that I’ve read – and yes, even fantasy – as of the more serious, non-fiction tomes. From C S Lewis’ Narnia series, I learnt the meaning of forgiveness and the beauty, gentleness and untamability of God. Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans resonated with my own feelings of isolation in my highly mobile childhood. Patricia St John’s Treasures of the Snow and particularly a Tangled Woods’ Secret taught me to rely on God’s grace and power. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings spoke of the courage of ordinary people doing great things in the face of impossible odds. It exposed how the lure of power can twist even those who desire to do good. One book (whose title and author I have sadly forgotten) helped me understand that my perceptions of people can often be a projection of my own insecurities. Elliot’s Middlemarch portrayed the unfairness and destructive nature of gossip. Austen’s Mansfield Park intimated that character is more important than beauty and poise even in romantic love. Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird and Griffin’s Black Like Me exposed the brutality and arbitrariness of racism. I could go on – Little's Jungle Doctor Tales, Coolidge’s What Katy Did, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Lewis’ Screwtape Letters and too many others to name or even recall.
It is this legacy of reading that inspires my own desire to write stories that inspire and challenge – as signposts to God’s love and forgiveness – through well crafted and inspired story telling. And the writers who have moved me along my journey are my role models – from the unforgettable stories of Old and New Testaments and the parables of Jesus to the winsome tales of Lewis, Tolkien, St John and company.
How about you – what books have inspired you and, if you are writer, which ones do you wish to emulate?
Jeanette lives in Brisbane, has practiced medicine, taught theology, spoken at various groups & is currently caring for her children, studying writing at Swinburne & writing her Akrad series.