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You're never alone with a book!

My wife Caroline is a most avid reader. She literally devours books, reading at least one a week since she was a small child growing up in rural South Africa. Books were an escape from the ugly realities of apartheid and a challenging home-life. Her maternal Grandmother who adored her cited the quote used in the title above when Caroline was very young and it stuck with her. She often vocalises the gratitude she feels for this gift bestowed as she continues to expand her already vast education through reading and stimulate her lifelong curiosity of different world cultures and history.

I grew up in a household of five children all keen readers due to my father and mother’s enthusiasm for education as a means to better oneself. My mother would often read to us from books that were personal favourites for her, especially poetry. She remained grateful throughout her life to a teacher at grammar school for opening her eyes to poetry. One poem stayed with me. Hilaire Belloc’s poem Jim, first published in 1907 as part of his Cautionary Tales for Children (1907), which she had in a book called Narrative Art in Verse by N.L.Clay (1963). I was fascinated by this humorous yet terrifying tale of a boy who had unwisely left his nurse at the zoo only to be eaten by a lion. What affected me was the way the words seemed to develop pace as the rhyme and meter combined to create the climax as the boy met his unfortunate denouement. I believe these early experiences of hearing and reading poetry gave me the fascination for the written word that later took me into acting.

There were books that made the sort of earth-shattering impact upon me that Minot describes. Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea satisfied my adolescent desire to escape to worlds less mundane but no less fraught, whilst Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities moved me with its deep humanity and sacrifice, giving me belief that the world could revere such generosity of spirit making life endurable. In later years I have indulged in books by great writers and playwrights, those successful in the highest ambitions when writing about universal love like Shakespeare, or the landscape and peoples of vast continents like Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or Tolstoy’s War and Peace, both masterpieces of character as well as historical commentaries.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens – The vividity of the descriptions of London and Paris. I really felt as though I were back in the 18th Century/The ultimate noble character of Sydney Carton culminating in the line, ‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’ as he lays down his life for another man, moved me deeply. Also, the opening lines where Dickens sets the scene using opposites - ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…etc’ intrigued me and made drew me in instantly as I wondered how these contrasts could be simultaneously reconciled to my either/or teenage perception.

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