‘One morning, Pantaloon hopped on his shiny red bicycle and headed straight for the baker’s shop.’ So begins the story of a poodle who dreamed of being a baker. This curious tale is one of the strongest connections I have with my childhood. I can’t remember where the book came from, but I loved it. I read it over and over until I knew it off by heart. It’s locked into my memory. I still have the book and it is one of the things I would rescue were I ever forced to flee from a fire in our house.
Apparently a third of all households in Britain do not own a single book. How can that be? I can’t imagine a home without books. Well, it wouldn’t be a home.
I have always been a bookworm. I could read before I started school and haven’t stopped since. Having worked my way through the Enid Blyton cannon, I explored the Chalet School books – ask any woman of my generation about these, if you’ve never heard of them – then moved on to Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh. During my dark teenage years, it was James Herbert and Dennis Wheatley that captivated me. These days I’m keen on Joanne Harris, Christopher Fowler and Julie Myserson, but this likely to change without warning if a friend recommends something that takes my fancy.
At the Althorp Literary Festival last year I heard six authors speak and bought a book by each of them. I’ve already got my tickets for this year. At our local arts centre, performers often have a book to sell and I’m always in the queue to meet the author, buy a copy and have it signed. I just can’t help myself. I have to keep putting up more shelves.
Tonight is World BookNight, when 20,000 volunteers each give away 20 copies of a book from a list of 20 to people who wouldn’t normally read it. I’m giving away Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. I took part last year, too, and gave away Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Some people were quite suspicious, as though I was trying to trick them into something nefarious. They didn’t want to get involved. Hey ho, their loss.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but there is such a thing as a free book. So if someone approaches you this evening and offers you, say, a copy Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde or Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges by John Wagner, take it. There are no strings. Simply accept the gift, read it and pass it on.